Differentiating Instruction: Why does it matter?
Differentiating instruction aims to make learning meaningful and accessible to all students by providing them with some flexibility as they work toward clear learning goals. Like everything else in education, this aim is not neutral but is founded on underlying worldview or philosophical assumptions. What are the assumptions underlying differentiating instruction, and are they consistent with a Biblical worldview?
The Purpose of Education
Differentiating instruction assumes that the purpose of education is that students will learn important concepts and skills that they will need to function in society. This understanding of learning is more likely to result in equipping students to love and serve God and neighbor than an approach that assumes learning is about acquiring facts and passing tests.
The Nature of the Student
Differentiating instruction assumes that students have many common needs and characteristics, as well differences. It also assumes that students can and should take some responsibility for their learning. This is consistent with the Biblical view that all students are created by God in the image of God. All students have dignity and value, and are purposeful, creative and responsible. But God also made each student unique, giving them different temperaments, experiences and gifts. No student perfectly “fits the mold”, so all require some flexibility for learning to be meaningful and accessible.
The Nature of the Learning Process
Differentiating instruction assumes that the learning process is a dynamic one, involving both external factors (new information and experiences) and the internal processing of those external factors so that they are given meaning and connected to prior learning. This is consistent with the Biblical view that there is a God-created, objective reality to be learned, but that human beings are involved in the process of learning. Differentiating instruction also assumes that learning is a collaborative process that requires mutual respect.
The Role of the Teacher
Differentiating instruction positions the teacher as an active guide and curator of learning experiences. The teacher takes responsibility for planning learning experiences and exercising the authority to ensure they are carried out by students acceptably. But the teacher does not take on the role of dictator or “fount of all knowledge”. Differentiating instruction assumes that the teacher takes on the role of shepherd – a common Biblical image for a leader who humbly exercises responsibility and authority. Differentiating instruction fully engages the teacher’s professional knowledge and skills, motivating them to further develop their craft, and encourages them to get to know individual students.
What is your response to these reflections? Are there other ways in which differentiating instruction aligns with a Biblical worldview?
In the following posts we will explore the various features of the learning experience that can be differentiated.