On June 4, the Davis School Board passed a motion 4-1 that, in part, “(directed) the Superintendent to have staff review and recommend assessment protocols to be implemented in screening students beginning in the 2015-16 school year. The focus of assessment will be to identify students whose needs cannot be met in classrooms which fully implement best practices of differentiated instruction.”
Differentiated instruction is an acknowledgement that one size cannot fit all in education. It is the way in which teachers respond to a variety of student needs in the classroom. To meet these varied needs, teachers differentiate by modifying the content, process and product in order to reach more students.
This is clearly happening already. The question really is how this instruction will change, based on changes to the AIM program.
A big question from that June 4 motion is what differentiated instruction would look like. The district in September stated, “DJUSD intends to implement a targeted strategy to ensure that all students receive differentiated instruction. This shall be achieved through a two-step process of formulating a professional growth plan and implementing particular strategies for advanced learners.”
They added, “Differentiation for the advanced learner incorporates information regarding differentiated classroom practices, but may have more emphasis on providing differentiated instructional methods that integrate a democratic learning environment with substantive information across the curriculum in advanced content, process and product. Typically, advanced learners demonstrate interest-based intrinsic motivation with a capacity for understanding abstract concepts and the ability to transfer knowledge from one learning situation to another.”
However, the Superintendent was criticized by many for a lack of clear vision for what differentiated instruction would look like. He told the board that “differentiation is a philosophy, not a program.” Members of the public who spoke, including educators and former board members, worried that differentiated instruction could not work in class sizes of 30. Many argued we needed to cut classes by one-third, down to 20, in order to make it work.
In this week’s staff report, the district notes, “Finally, this presentation will provide concrete examples of what differentiation looks like in classrooms and at school sites. This presentation will deliver an educational overview of differentiation in DJUSD classrooms from professionals that are progressing in their differentiation practices, and discuss our professional development plan that focuses on offering all students access to appropriate levels of learning.”
We still do not get a clear sense of where this is going, but the district does provide several existing examples.
For instance, approved at the June 19, 2014 Board Meeting was AIM Flexible Grouping in Math.
Staff writes, “To enhance professional development in the area of differentiation, flexible and innovative practices to improve student performance and outcomes in self-contained and non-self-contained classes for students who are GATE identified and/or high achieving in math are critical. The Committee recommends that each site explore the implementation of flexible grouping practices in math that will meet the unique needs of their students.”
This shall include, but is not limited to:
- Exploring scheduling possibilities for math, such as block scheduling by grade level, including self-contained and non-self-contained classes.
- Recommending ways teachers within one grade level could provide flexible grouping within a math block whereby students are grouped by ability level.
- Planning flexible grouping and learning stations within a classroom so that content can be differentiated according to student need; include resources such as the math specialist and teacher aides to provide additional assistance to underperforming students.
- Rethinking use of math specialists so they are assigned to a single site and can then be used as integral part of math team.
- Scheduling additional collaboration time to aid in the implementation of differentiation in order to develop horizontal and vertical team planning.
- Exploring educational options for students who are beyond the grade level curriculum.
The district distributed a survey to elementary principals “to gain a better understanding of what differentiation practices are happening within all classrooms, across all elementary grade levels and across the school site in mathematics. The survey results are based on the observations of each principal and school-wide implementation of differentiation practices in mathematics and with Envision. The survey was distributed through a Google form on September 21, 2015 and results were collected on October 28, 2015.”
According to the staff report, “The results of the differentiation survey provide a picture of the various range of strategies each school site and classroom are using to meet students where they are at and move them forward. Each school is providing instruction that includes differentiated instructional practices for the various readiness levels of our students. The differentiation varies in every classroom and on a daily basis based on each student’s needs.”
They continue, “A visitor that walks into DJUSD classrooms may see: small group instruction, flexible pacing, varied materials, flexible groupings of small group instruction, students researching and creating projects, leveled books in reading, leveled instruction and the use of online Envision.”
Staff writes, “The district will continue [to] provide support for the differentiation work happening in all classrooms and schools by providing specific professional growth on differentiation, collaborating with teachers, support the implementation of Envision through instructional coaching, availability of technology, use of data and using research based best practices in providing first effective instruction, intervention and opportunities to advance. DJUSD commits to sharing results with all principals, continue to share best practices, offer on-going professional growth on differentiation to teachers and principals and continue to monitor differentiation and ensure we continue to move all students forward.”