Are You a Quill or a Crayon? Differentiated Instruction in an Elementary School
If the student gets labeled as a crayon, that student lands in a classroom like the one shown below:
The quills receive higher quality instruction and greater opportunities while the crayons do not. Of course, opposition to differentiated instruction can not be purely based on a cartoon like Clarence. It is only research that can really settle this issue. There are previous studies summarizing the research in this area authored by Slavin of Johns Hopkins University. One is for elementary schools while the other is for secondary schools. Both are quite old (at least twenty years ago) and evidence supporting ability grouping is very weak. There is, however, one recent research paper (October 2014) in this area published in the journal Gifted Child. The paper authored by a team of education researchers from University of Connecticut, Allegheny College, Ball State University, and Colorado State University, has the following abstract:
AbstractThe following table illustrates how much differentiated instruction differs from the traditional method in terms of learning outcome as measured by a post test:
- Whereas modern medicine owes much of its success to evidence-based treatments, most instructional techniques have not been subjected to empirical scrutiny.
- At ﬁrst blush, style-based instruction seems to be supported by a large empirical literature.
- Our search of the literature on learning styles revealed that the appropriate design was used in only a handful of studies.
- There exist a smattering of positive ﬁndings with unknown effect sizes that are eclipsed by a much greater number of published failures.
- There presently is no empirical justiﬁcation for tailoring instruction to students’ supposedly different learning styles
"In summary, there presently is no empirical justification for tailoring instruction to students’ supposedly different learning styles. Educators should instead focus on developing the most effective and coherent ways to present particular bodies of content, which often involve combining different forms of instruction, such as diagrams and words, in mutually reinforcing ways. Given the costs of assessing students’ supposed learning styles and offering differentiated instruction, this should come as good news to educators at all levels, from kindergarten through medical school."Differentiated instruction demands a lot. It requires good and regular assessment tools. Having several groups in one classroom attend to different activities, projects or problems requires more in terms of classroom management. These requirements often translate to having more than one teacher in one classroom.
It is indeed true as shown by older studies as well as in the most recent study cited above that high performing students somewhat benefit from differentiated instruction. Unfortunately, this is probably due not to differentiated instruction. Oftentimes it is brought about by placing better resources (better teachers and learning materials) in front of these students.