There is no such thing as a homogeneous class, except of course a class of one. As soon as there is more than one student, there are issues of diversity — through culture, language, personality, academic needs and attitudes toward learning. Teachers must take all of this into account, and this can be an extraordinarily difficult task.
According to the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), by the fourth grade, the top 10 percent of U.S. students are reading six grade levels above those in the bottom 10 percent. Students at the 25th and at the 75th percentiles also have large gaps in abilities. So a teacher has to find a way to effectively instruct to a very wide variety of learners.
Tracking and Performance Groups
In the old days, students were sorted into performance groups. In middle and high school, this continued with separate tracks where students were placed into Honors, On-Level, or Remedial programs. However, starting in the 1970’s, criticism began to mount against tracking. Opponents claimed that it affected self-esteem, had racial undertones, and provided the least resources to low-achievers.
Traditional Differentiated Instruction
But then differentiated instruction arrived, and it was heralded by many as the savior to the classroom. Here, teachers could purportedly adjust to each student’s personal learning level no matter how wide the range by placing the students in flexible groups. Low-achievers would benefit by learning in a diverse class environment and high-achievers would remain unaffected and continue to achieve. But empirical evidence collected over the years suggests that high-achievers may actually be harmed when grouped with low-achievers. In addition, low-achievers seem to benefit most when they interact with peers that are only a bit higher academically, but not leaps higher. When looking at the bigger picture of traditional differential instruction, it appears that success has not been widespread and many teachers report that it is difficult to apply.
Digital Differentiated Instruction
With the era of ed-tech, we now have digital differentiated instruction. This allows each student to perform optimally at his or her own individualized level. It also benefits teachers, by making differentiated instruction more manageable and more satisfying. However, a teacher can’t just hand out tablets and magically see student success. There must be appropriate technology and pedagogy that backs the program. The digital program should emphasize formative assessments, differentiated skill levels, and real-time learning class management.
With the right ed-tech provider, a digital differentiated instruction classroom can excel. To learn more about customized ed-tech solutions backed by pedagogical expertise, contact the team at Time To Know.