THEORY INTO PRACTICE, 44(3), 183–184

This Issue

HIS ISSUE OF THEORY INTO PRACTICE examines the topic of differentiated instruction. Although the idea of modifying teaching in response to learner needs is anything but new, there is considerable conversation in contemporary schools about its importance. In fact, there are calls for differentiation from many facets of educational practice. The National Association for the Education of Young Children reminds us that it is the responsibility of schools to adjust to the developmental needs and levels of the children they serve, and schools should not expect children to adapt to a system that does not address their individual needs (LaParo & Pianta, 2000). Middle school critics and advocates advise that “classes should include students of diverse needs, achievement levels, interests, and learning styles, and instruction should be differentiated to take advantage of the diversity, not ignore it” (Jackson & Davis, 2000, p. 23). One of the key reform goals of the National Association for Secondary School Principals (2004) is ensuring that teachers teach in ways that accommodate individual learning differences. There is research suggesting the efficacy of attending to learner variance in readiness, interest, and learning profile (Tomlinson et al., 2003). Research also suggests that, regardless of the way in which a particular learner varies from a classroom norm, differentiation is more likely the exception than the rule (Tomlinson et al., 2003).


Reasons for the tenacity of the one-size-fits-all classroom are many. Certainly, one reason responsive teaching is scarce is that teachers lack images of such classrooms. We teach as we were taught. Further, most educators have had little opportunity to study in depth the need for differentiation in ways that enlighten and engender change. This issue offers one opportunity for educators to examine the concept from a variety of experts, whose perspectives help define the need for differentiated instruction, clarify some of the issues, and provide specific guidance for making classrooms more effective and efficient for all learners in today’s schools. The authors have long, distinguished, and varied backgrounds in education. They share a common interest in developing schools and classrooms that actively support development of the full potential in each learner. George presents a rationale for differentiation. His article is not intended to be a research piece, but rather a theoretical and experiential argument for differentiation as a means of supporting equity and excellence in contemporary schools. The central role of motivation in learning is the focus of Ginsberg, who believes that students are motivated to learn, and it is the teacher’s role to craft instruction that evokes each student’s inherent desire to learn. Moon carefully describes the essential link between effective assessment and effec-


This Issue

tive differentiation, helping readers understand key principles and practices that undergird both elements in the teaching-learning cycle. Likewise, McTighe and Brown write about the necessity of ensuring that differentiation occurs in the context of quality curriculum, illuminating the interplay between quality curriculum, quality assessment, and quality instruction. Sternberg and Fang share a theory of learning that provides a way of thinking about and responding to student learning preferences. The article is rooted in research that indicates the efficacy of attending to inevitable variance in students’ approaches to learning. Jackson presents African American learners as frequent underachievers in schools and classrooms that are often inattentive to the constellation of needs these students are likely to bring into the educational context. She provides examples of ways teachers can more effectively respond to learners in urban and other settings. VanTassel-Baska and Stambaugh detail some of the complexity involved in designing and delivering curriculum and instruction that sufficiently challenges high ability learners. They specify traits of classrooms and teachers likely to be responsive to this often underserved population. Broderick, Mehta-Parekh, and Reid look at literature and experience related to addressing the needs of students with learning difficulties. They envision classrooms where human variance is both expected and acceptable, and where teaching and learning respond to the inevitable variety in young people. The issue concludes with two articles on issues that particularly perplex teachers who contemplate developing more responsive classrooms. Brimijoin examines the relationship between high stakes tests and differentiation, sharing a classroom example in which the differentiating instruction in the face of high-stakes testing worked to the benefit of students. Tomlinson probes the relationship between grading and differentiation, suggesting that quality grading practices and quality differentiation are highly compatible.

A panel of educators and observers of education recently suggested 10 trends that must be established in schools if education is to serve its students and society effectively in the decades ahead (Marx, 2000) Among the trends are the needs to: (a) respond to the fact that we are soon to be a nation of minorities with widely differing backgrounds and perspectives, (b) move from onesize-fits-all classrooms to classrooms that are far more personalized to address the diversity reflected in the classrooms, (c) actively help broadly diverse learners achieve at a level of quality once reserved for only a few students, and (d) abandon the status quo and protection of the way we have always done things to a continual quest for improvement in schools. The challenge is substantial. It is my hope that this issue will contribute to the conversations and actions that makes schools and classrooms more dignifying and compelling for more learners.

Jackson, A., & Davis, G. (2000). Turning points 2000: Educating adolescents in the 21st Century. New York: Teachers College Press. LaParo, K., & Pianta, R. (2000). Predicting children’s competence in the early school years. Review of Educational Research, 70, 443–484. Marx, G. (2000). Ten trends: Educating children for a profoundly different future. Arlington, VA: Educational Research Service. National Association of Secondary School Principals. (2004). Breaking ranks II: Strategies for leading high school reform. Reston, VA: Author. Tomlinson, C., Brighton, C., Hertberg, H., Callahan, C., Moon, T., Brimijoin, K., et al. (2003). Differentiating instruction in response to student readiness, interest, and learning profiles in academically diverse classrooms: A review of literature. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 27, 119–145.

Guest Editor Carol Tomlinson


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