When Pedagogic Fads Trump Priorities
Several years ago, I had a courteous, if troubling, e-mail exchange with the architect of a hugely popular instructional innovation. She had heard that I had been criticizing this approach. (I had.) In a series of e-mails, I explained my reasons, starting with the fact that there was no research or strong evidence to support its widespread adoption. I asked, with increasing importunity, for any such evidence. Only after multiple requests did I finally receive an answer: There was no solid research or school evidence.
The innovation-Differentiated Instruction-went on to become one of the most widely adopted instructional orthodoxies of our time. It claims that students learn best when (despite some semantically creative denial) grouped by ability, as well as by their personal interests and "learning styles."
I had seen this innovation in action. In every case, it seemed to complicate teachers' work, requiring them to procure and assemble multiple sets of materials. I saw frustrated teachers trying to provide materials that matched each student's or group's presumed ability level, interest, preferred "modality" and learning style. The attempt often devolved into a frantically assembled collection of worksheets, coloring exercises, and specious "kinesthetic" activities. And it dumbed down instruction: In English, "creative" students made things or drew pictures; "analytical" students got...
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- Assistant Professor of Educational Administration
- Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS
- Superintendent of Schools - SAU 9
- SAU 9 - Conway, NH, Conway, NH
- Senior Content and Curriculum Leader
- BrightBytes, San Francisco, CA
- Executive Director
- Doctors Charter School, Miami Shores, FL
- English Teacher
- MVCSD, Mount Vernon, NY