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Curriculum Letter to the Editor

Delisle: Comments Underscore Differentiation’s Failings

January 28, 2015 1 min read
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To the Editor:

When I wrote my Commentary “Differentiation Doesn’t Work” (Jan. 7, 2015), I anticipated that it would generate some discussion. Indeed, it has. In reading the comments made directly to Education Week on edweek.org, as well as the dozens of emails I have received from readers in several countries, I can conclude only one thing: Differentiation works … unless it doesn’t.

Many of those who disagreed with my premise touted their own successes with differentiation, while those who struggled with its implementation (mostly teachers) used terms like “overwhelmed” and “discouraged.”

Those opposed to my views called me “misinformed” or “naive,” while those who liked what I had to say applauded my “bravery” and “clarity” in stating the flaws of differentiation.

A good number of readers assumed that I wanted to return to the days of whole-class instruction (I don’t), and surprisingly few readers expressed concerns for how little gifted students benefit from differentiation in heterogeneous classrooms, which was a major point of my Commentary.

My favorite comment came from a reader who stated that differentiation, as a concept, is “sublimely beautiful,” while its implementation has been “ridiculous.” Amen to that.

I stand by my assertion that differentiation in a heterogeneous classroom setting is a difficult, at times impossible, task to complete for a single teacher.

If students were “strategically mixed” (as one reader put it) in classrooms instead of being placed haphazardly, without regard to their readiness to learn, then differentiation would have a chance at succeeding. However, until such time, differentiation will leave more students behind than it propels forward.

Editor’s note: The Commentary “Differentiation Doesn’t Work,” by James R. Delisle, provoked an avalanche of reader comments. Because of the extraordinary level of interest in the essay, Education Week is publishing this Commentary by one of differentiated instruction’s foremost proponents, Carol Ann Tomlinson.

James R. Delisle

Distinguished Professor of Education

Kent State University (Retired)

North Myrtle Beach, S.C.

A version of this article appeared in the January 29, 2015 edition of Education Week as Delisle: Comments Underscore Differentiation’s Failings

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