Great intentions do not always equate to great results. Anyone who has spent any time in education comes to realize this. Recently, ASCD has been promoting a well-intentioned approach to differentiated instruction. Their article “Differentiating without Drowning” maintains that teachers should:
“Choose two students on whom to focus your differentiated instruction or lesson (who isn’t benefiting from instruction in your class?).
Use student files, assessment results, student work, support-staff knowledge, and any other data you have on hand to pinpoint three areas of weakness for each of the two students. (You may want to build on this list later, but begin with a short list of three weak areas.)”
What’s the problem with this approach? It simply does not scale. The average classrooms we see often include half or more of the students with skill gaps BELOW their current grade level. With the exception of a few common gaps like fractions, their needs are quite individual. No two students have exactly the same set of gaps. The ASCD approach is well meaning and may well provide assistance for a few students who are close to proficiency but it is not differentiated enough to assist all the struggling math students in a class.
Teachers need a tool that clearly identifies each student’s missing gaps, puts them together in properly sequenced study plans and provides award winning instruction to help students understand and fill those gaps quickly. It is simply not something that they will be able to do on their own.
Given the right tools, good teachers can provide truly individualized help for struggling students while continuing to teach to the collective class.