Differentiated Instruction at Harbor Country Day School focuses on responding to individual students’ needs and propelling each student towards his or her greatest potential while retaining the benefits of teaching in a classroom setting. Differentiation is a teaching practice that uses constant, thoughtful assessment to attend to all students’ learning needs effectively and efficiently in the classroom by providing tools that support different students and groups of students as they develop understanding, knowledge and skills according to their readiness, interests and learning profiles.
As a result of this responsive teaching style, all students can be successful, even when faced with the academic challenge of a rigorous curriculum. Helping a student to success does not mean redefining what success is for each student; it means tailoring the process to allow all students to demonstrate the same enduring understandings by identifying a student’s most efficient way of learning and using it to make learning and understanding as powerful as possible.
Differentiation is not based on individualized lesson plans or IEPs for each student. Rather, it takes advantage of the collaborative potential of a classroom. Differentiated classrooms are constantly changing based on the myriad opportunities to group students according to a variety of criteria, including interests, similar or different learning styles, and skills and strategies they need to practice. By using flexible grouping, the teacher is able to target small group instruction to engage the students, and students constantly find themselves working with different peers. Not only do students learn from teachers, they are taught to learn from their peers and to learn on their own through observation, research and reflection.
Differentiation is about meeting students where they are and helping them grow in all aspects of their school life. This means that an essential aspect of differentiated instruction is building a safe learning community based on respect for individuals and fostering an environment where students can be pushed past the bounds of their perceived abilities because they are willing to take risks. Differentiated instruction is planned, but ultimately it is a way of thinking about teaching that allows teachers the flexibility to meet the needs of their students in the moment. Teachers keep the curricular goals of each lesson and unit at the forefront of their planning and teaching, and these goals form the basis of the high quality curriculum that is continually revised and improved upon at Harbor. High standards, academic challenge and ongoing assessment, as well as academic scaffolds to support students as the bar is raised in a collaborative and responsive learning environment, are hallmarks of the differentiated classroom at Harbor Country Day School.
McTighe, J., & Wiggins, G. (2004) Understanding by design, 2nd edition. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Tomlinson, C. (2003). Fulfilling the promise of the differentiated classroom. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Tomlinson, C., & McTighe, J. (2006). Integrating differentiated instruction and understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Tomlinson, C., Brimijoin, K., & Navaez, L. (2008). The differentiated school. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.