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Differentiated Instruction/Responsive Teaching


Flowers are Red, by Harry Chapin

The little boy went first day of school
He got some crayons and started to draw
He put colors all over the paper
For colors was what he saw
And the teacher said… What you doin' young man
I'm paintin' flowers he said
She said... It's not the time for art young man
And anyway flowers are green and red
There's a time for everything young man
And a way it should be done
You've got to show concern for everyone else
For you're not the only one
And she said...
Flowers are red young man
Green leaves are green
There's no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen
But the little boy said...
There are so many colors in the rainbow
So many colors in the morning sun
So many colors in the flower and I see every one…

In classrooms where differentiated instruction is a core practice, the little boy in Harry Chapin’s sad song would have been encouraged to express his creativity, rather than having it crushed because it failed to conform to his teacher’s pre-conceived notions of what was right and what was wrong. Differentiated instruction is based on fundamental beliefs about differences among learners, how they learn, learning preferences and individual interests and that instruction should be flexible enough to accommodate individual differences that naturally occur among learners.

The key to successful differentiation is to discover how each student learns and demonstrates his or her learning. Armed with this knowledge of their students, teachers can take appropriate measures to adjust the three central elements of the curriculum: the content of what is taught, the manner in which it is taught, and how understanding is assessed (Tomlinson, 2001). The resources below present relevant background information about differentiated instruction and ideas for implementing such practices in the everyday classroom.

Differentiated instruction, in contrast to the traditional “one-size-fits-all” approach to teaching, responds to classrooms that are increasingly characterized by academic and cultural diversity. Charles Evans Hughes, a noted politician of the early 20th century is quoted as having said, “when we lose the right to be different, we lose the privilege to be free.” Teachers who intentionally and consistently modify their teaching to meet children where their readiness, interest, and cognitive levels already lie, show respect for the rights of individuals to remain free.