Differentiation in the GPPSS
Differentiation is a philosophy of instruction that supports the accommodation of diverse academic needs of students. This section provides a broader explanation of this way of teaching as well as concrete examples.
The philosophy of differentiation was approved by the Board of Education on August 14, 1995. "The board shall attempt to balance its educational program to provide for the varied needs and interests of the students in its schools. The board accepts the premise that the student is the center of the school curriculum and that a program of differentiated instruction should be tailored to fit a child-centered program of education.
The board views the educational process as a comprehensive program which must be undertaken in cooperation with other institutions of our society and will seek to establish and maintain strong ties with parents and community programs."
"No Walls, No Ceilings for All Students"
"The fact that students differ may be inconvenient, but it is inescapable. Adapting to that diversity is the inevitable price of productivity, high standards, and fairness to kids."
In the spring of 1991, the Grosse Pointe Public School System set a new course in its continuing efforts to provide the best possible education for all our students. "Differentiation" was born. Differentiation ensures that each student is challenged by a variety of instructional strategies suited to his or her achievement and ability levels, learning styles, and interests.
We call this our "no walls, no ceilings" approach to learning. All students, in every classroom, at every grade level, are encouraged and nurtured to learn and grow as much as they can.
What Is "Differentiation"
A BIG word for a simple concept: providing instruction that meets the differing needs of all students, through the following measures:
• Providing multiple assignments within each unit, tailored for students of different levels of achievement, interest, and/or learning styles. For example, students with advanced reading levels use material that is on the same topic, but more difficult, challenging or complex.
• Allowing students to choose, with the teacher's guidance, ways to learn and how to demonstrate what they have learned. For example, in a unit on Ancient Greece, some students might write a play illustrating what they have learned; others might create a mural.
• Permitting students to opt out of material they can demonstrate they know and to progress at their own pace through new material. For example, students who have mastered certain math concepts may be permitted to move beyond that material; students who need more time to master a subject area are permitted to move at a slower pace.
• Structuring the class assignments so they require high levels of critical thinking but permit a range of responses. For example, students may be asked to speculate on the nature of the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, explain cause and effect, justify their ideas, and anticipate alternative viewpoints.
• Having high expectations for all students allows teachers to provide instruction aimed at a high level of understanding; all students are expected to achieve at optimal levels.
• Implementing flexible grouping strategies that cluster students by achievement in a particular subject area, interest, learning style, personal choice, and ability.
• Creating learning centers with activities geared to different learning styles, levels of thinking, levels of interest, and levels of achievement
• Providing students with opportunities to explore topics in which they have strong interest and find personal meaning. For example, individual and small-group investigations of real problems are an option for students who have mastered curriculum goals or an activity for all students.
Additional Methods of Differentiation
• Elementary Cluster Grouping: This option places together three to eight students who are achieving significantly above grade level in a given subject area within an otherwise mixed ability classroom. Students are "clustered" based on advanced skills in language arts and/or math and are brought together for instruction in their area (s) of strength.
• Elementary Enrichment: District-wide enrichment classes are offered to all students in areas such as art, opera, math, instrumental music, chorus, and science. Each elementary school also receives enrichment funds.
• Magnet Elementary Classes: Presently located at Defer, Ferry and Richard Schools, the Magnet classrooms offer the option of full-time accelerated instruction for students with exceptional intellectual and academic abilities.
• Accelerated and Advanced Middle and High School Courses: Accelerated math and Honors English courses are offered in the middle schools. Accelerated, Honors and Advanced Placement courses are offered in the high schools.
• Middle School Support: The middle schools provide support for students in need of assistance with reading comprehension, study and organizational skills, and general course content.
• Staff Development: Teachers are not expected to be "instant experts:, but a program of staff development in differentiated instruction is provided for their professional growth. Teachers may attend conferences and workshops, work in teams to develop units, and/or request additional funds through a mini-grant program.
A Continuum of Differentiation
The "No Walls, No Ceilings" approach to Differentiation in the Grosse Pointe Public School System seeks to optimize instruction and learning for all students.
In the absence of Differentiation in a school district, there is an implied philosophy that all students' needs are the same, that the class works as a whole o most materials and activities, that the group sets the pace, and that group grading standards prevail. This is not a "No Walls, No Ceilings" philosophy, and it is not acceptable in our schools.
Our goal is to implement the concept of "Differentiation" outlined by Professor Carol Tomlinson of the University of Virginia (1993) as follows:
- Articulated philosophy of student differences
- Planned assessment and compacting
- Variable pacing
- Planned variation in content
- Flexible classroom arrangements
- Planned variation in how students make sense of that they learn
- Planned variations in students products
- Consist use of flexible groups
- Individual goal setting, assessment, and grading
- Grading on individual growth and progress
Many of the components of Differentiation are already in place to some degree, with teachers receiving ongoing in-service training to assure its full implementation. Gradually our teachers are converting their instruction from some Differentiation to full Differentiation.
Glossary of Selected Terms
Acceleration:Moving to a quicker pace. May include early entrance to school, grade, skipping, non-graded classroom, early admission to college, enrollment in special courses, advanced courses, curriculum compacting.
Curriculum Compacting: Streamlining, condensing or eliminating grade level curriculum for students who have already achieved goals and objectives of the regular curriculum.
Diagnostic/Prescriptive Instruction: Planned assessment of students' knowledge and skills and modification of individual or group instruction accordingly.
Enrichment: Extensions of the grade level curriculum or additional learning experience not included in the regular curriculum.
Flexibly Paced Math: Self-paced, continuous, and in-depth learning of mathematical concepts and problem solving.
Thematic Units: Information and activities from a variety of disciplines tied together by a key concept or idea to form curriculum.