Teaching Letter to the Editor

High-Quality Instruction, Not Differentiation, Is the Key

January 20, 2015 1 min read
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To the Editor:

James R. Delisle has earned our congratulations for calling out differentiated instruction as a fad that is simply not workable in real classrooms. Likewise, he has earned an equal amount of criticism from us for his conclusion that we must return to tracking and homogeneous classrooms to meet students’ needs.

Mr. Delisle, like most other fad supporters and opponents, appears to ignore examining the single most important variable that impacts student learning: effective instruction.

The modern classroom continues to be a heterogeneous place, with large class sizes. The range of abilities, languages, attention disorders, and other variables will remain more of a constant. Given the variables, it is virtually impossible for even the most experienced and creative teacher to implement a differentiated instructional model with fidelity.

The most logical and common-sense approach to the reality of the modern classroom is to approach it with a “whole class” learning model and also to bring to bear, as needed, the pedagogical skills required to move the slower students along with the rest of the class.

The best instructional model, historically and at present, is direct instruction—a highly structured, teacher-guided instruction method with a limited number of variables for students to confront. A focused instructional model, implemented by a competent and confident teacher, can virtually guarantee an initial mastery of the lesson objective by a large majority of students.

If anything leads to the dumbing-down of the curriculum, it has been homogeneous grouping on a class-size scale. Beware of any “solution” or fad that has not first controlled for the most important variable in student achievement: effective instruction.

Randall Olson


Gene Tavernetti


Total Educational Systems Support

Fresno, Calif.

A version of this article appeared in the January 21, 2015 edition of Education Week as High-Quality Instruction, Not Differentiation, Is the Key


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