I’ll never forget the first time I overheard a parent asking her child’s first grade teacher how she was planning to differentiate instruction for her child. The teacher later told me that many parents were beginning to expect differentiated instruction for their children. This was in a public school with over 30 children in each and every class. If parents are using this term (even incorrectly) we need to be sure we understand it and what it means for our practice.
Differentiated instruction does not mean that every lesson is adapted for every child. That would be crazy. According to the Illinois Professional Teaching Standards, Standard 3 – Planning for Differentiated Instruction, “The competent teacher plans and designs
instruction based on content area knowledge, diverse student characteristics, student performance data, curriculum goals, and the community context. The teacher plans for ongoing student growth and achievement.
Knowledge Indicators – The competent teacher:
3A) understands the Illinois Learning Standards (23 Ill. Adm. Code 1.Appendix D), curriculum development process, content, learning theory, assessment, and student development and knows how to incorporate this knowledge in planning differentiated instruction;
3B) understands how to develop short- and long-range plans, including transition plans, consistent with curriculum goals, student diversity, and learning theory;
3C) understands cultural, linguistic, cognitive, physical, and social and emotional differences, and considers the needs of each student when planning instruction;
3D) understands when and how to adjust plans based on outcome data, as well as student needs, goals, and responses;
3E) understands the appropriate role of technology, including assistive technology, to address student needs, as well as how to incorporate contemporary tools and resources to maximize student learning; 3F) understands how to co-plan with other classroom teachers, parents or guardians, paraprofessionals, school specialists, and community representatives to design learning experiences; and 3G) understands how research and data guide instructional planning, delivery, and adaptation.”
As far as I can tell, the standards do not require individual lesson plans for each and every child, but it does ask that teachers consider each child’s needs and plan accordingly. Most children do not require differentiated instruction; they fall within a typical range of development and ability. Therefore, classroom planning, curriculum development, and goal setting is done at a global level, with considerations made for any child with a learning difference.
In an ECE program, one way we do this is by providing open-ended materials and activities that are adaptable for children and by the children themselves. Manipulatives have many uses and are used to scaffold learning. Interest areas are complex and provide infinite possibilities for learning. Good activity/lesson plans consider CLAD (culturally, linguistically, and ability diverse) children and provide quality learning experiences for all children. The environment is adaptable as we are not bound by desks and rigid scheduling. Good ECE programs differentiate learning all of the time.
So the next time a parent asks you how you are planning to meet her child’s needs via differentiated learning, be sure to quote the Illinois Professional Teaching Standards and explain that in early childhood, our entire curriculum is designed for differentiated learning.