Breaking Up with Differentiated Instruction

Well, Differentiated Instruction…you’ll always have a place in our hearts, but this isn’t working. We’ve decided that it’d be best to go our separate ways.

We’re sorry it’s come to this, as we really believed this could be something special. At the risk of being over-dramatic, none of us will ever forget the rush we felt when we first heard about your ability to close achievement gaps, raise students’ engagement levels, and all the rest. Remember, too, how you said we could do all that through each child’s interests, learning styles, and ability levels? It was like our idealistic ed school dreams were finally coming true! (Throw in how we’d had to endure our undergrads’ backward, anti-Deweyan academic professors and their one-size-fits-all instruction — ‘read this book, then write this paper! read this book, then take this test!’ — and, well, you were triply intriguing. [Irresistible, really.])

We didn’t really get to see your promises materialize into results for kids, but that part…well, that was probably more us, not you. (And the evaluators who rated us would likely agree. Remember the low ‘plans differentiated assessments’ ratings in our last few observations? Clearly, we might really have never understood what actually made you tick.)

At bottom, however, the point is this: no matter how we may have fallen short executing your ideals, we always believed in you. Even when we were giving our lower-performing kids open-response, reaction-based, and/or project-oriented tasks and watching them continue, somehow, to lag behind our higher-performing kids’ (who, mystifyingly, worked through the standard curriculum — weird, right?) levels of content understanding, we had little doubt that your way was the right one. The impression you left was that large. As for the gap-closing results we were looking for, well… Figuring out who owns the blame hardly seems worthwhile, considering.

That said, we’re breaking up with you because we’ve found someone new. Someone a lot like you, actually, just…more exciting. Someone who lives more fully in today — you know, someone very twenty-first century. Someone who can make us even better versions of the each-individual-student-centered teachers we want to be.

Our new interest’s name is Personalized Instruction. The name likely rings a bell, as it’s everywhere these days. And, unlike you, Differentiated Instruction, Personalized Instruction came into our lives with what we see as proof, not just promises, about how our kids will benefit. Check out this balanced, scientifically verified coverage, for instance, by Matthew Lynch in Huffington Post (note: we’re not sure, but we figure the piece’s many superscripted TMs stand for ‘Thoroughly Meritable’). If that’s not enough, see this definitive, unquestionable endorsement of Personalized Instruction (‘Personalized Learning May Boost Achievement, Charter Study Says’); it’s from a report released by the completely tech-sales-impartial Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and it uses results from a not-yet-complete study of students from charter schools (where, incidentally, students’ enrollments are purely voluntary).

After reading, be honest: can you blame us for falling for Personalized Instruction? Call us blind and foolish all you want. You have every right to feel hurt.

Before we part for good, remember this: though we’re leaving you for Personalized Instruction, the main reason is because it does things for us that we always hoped you would but that we, working together, could never make reality. Personalized Instruction is, simply (and forgive us for rubbing salt in the still-fresh wound), a better version of you. To illustrate, see this table from the completely unbiased New Tech Network:


See? According to NTN, Personalized Instruction is really just a logical, enhanced extension of you on their Personalized Learning Spectrum. When it comes to being Learner-Centric, Differentiated Instruction, you are really just living in the past. You are only a step above ‘Uniform/Standardized’, and we just feel we need to be moving further to the east on this continuum. That’s all there is to it. As much as we spun our wheels together during our relationship to make good things happen for kids, then never figured out why things weren’t working like you promised they would, organizations like NTN and the Gates Foundation really led us to a clearer understanding–and helped us better understand the direction we need to go in.

We sincerely hope that any ill will eases in a reasonable time and that we can someday interact as frien–oh, look at the time! So sorry, but we must be going; off to a meeting with a team of iPad salespeople. Call anytime!


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