I’m not sure about you, but it has been *cough, cough* several years since I completed a degree in education and obtained teacher certification. Most of us in the education profession realize that to remain effective and relevant, we must constantly update our skills and keep up with the movements and trends affecting our practice. But sometimes, these trends are cyclical. We see an educational approach or method repackaged or rebranded for a new generation of students. My father is fond of exclaiming “There is nothing new under the sun!” and many times I am inclined to believe he is right. When I first heard the terms: “differentiated instruction,” these brought to mind some of the ideas we have discussed in the field of instructional design for quite some time. Ideas like learner analysis (who are my learners? what do they know? what are their learning struggles? where do they need support?) and content analysis (what am I teaching? What are the key ideas, concepts? What is the best order to introduce these concepts?) were some of the most obvious and immediate connections.
Even so, recognizing “differentiated instruction” as containing approaches we find familiar, and actually enacting and supporting this practice as school librarians are vastly different situations. If we are to collaborate with teachers and support learning for all, then we need to be able to verbalize differentiated instruction, recognize what it looks like, plan for it, and support its implementation. Differentiated instruction is “a way of thinking, an approach to teaching and learning that advocates beginning where students are and designing experiences that will better help them achieve” (Koechlin & Zwaan, 2008, p. 2).
There are four design elements that can be conduits for differentiation:
1. Content (the subject for student mastery, curriculum materials that introduce the subject)
2. Process (student learning activities)
3. Product (student artifacts of learning)
4. Learning Environment (classroom set up and conditions)
When you read through those four conduits, did your eyes light up with recognition? Did you think to yourself: “I do design these four elements differently depending on student needs! I differentiate!” If so, then congratulations! However, if you are struggling a bit to envision how you might have a role impacting these four elements when you are not the classroom teacher, then I encourage you to set aside fifteen minutes this week and read Everyone Wins: Differentiation in the School Library by Carol Koechlin and Sandi Zwaan. In this article, Carol and Sandi list concrete examples of ways you can implement, as well as support differentiated instruction in your school. As the authors state: “connecting kids and content in meaningful ways is the work of all educators, and helping every child achieve is our mutual goal” (p. 2).