I’m spending Monday, September 26th, in Berkeley at a workshop hosted by the Bay Area Teacher Development Collaborative. The program is entitled: “Deepening Our Practice: Methods for Differentiating and Assessing,” and it’s meant to be a day of reflecting on the practice of differentiated instruction. In the words of educational theorist and NYU professor Diane Ravitch, differentiated instruction (DI) is the following:
“In EdSpeak: A Glossary of Education Terms, Phrases, Buzzwords, and Jargon, Diane Ravitch defines differentiating instruction as a form of instruction that seeks to “maximize each student’s growth by recognizing that students have different ways of learning, different interests, and different ways of responding to instruction. In practice, it involves offering several different learning experiences in response to students’ varied needs. Educators may vary learning activities and materials by difficulty, so as to challenge students at different readiness levels; by topic, in response to students’ interests; and by students’ preferred ways of learning or expressing themselves” (p. 75).”
My own training focused heavily on a Universal Design for Learning–or UDL–model for learning. UDL is a principle that first gained popularity in architecture: it’s the idea that you can design environments that offer accessibility to all users that become highly usable and beneficial in surprising and unexpected ways. A great example are the ramp cut-outs in sidewalk curbs: these are incredibly useful to people in wheelchairs, but they’re also useful to people pushing strollers or rolling a dolly or a suitcase. In education, UDL principles function in the same way: they suggest that educational approaches and materials should be designed to suit a variety of learning needs. Specifically, learning environments and materials can be designed to help students with disabilities and also offer unexpected benefits for all students.
As I head into this workshop tomorrow, I’ve been revisiting some of my own notes on UDL and researching other articles on the subject, and I’m reflecting on how these UDL principles intersect with some of the thinking that guides DI. I read an interesting article from the folks at CAST about just this intersection here (http://aim.cast.org/learn/historyarchive/backgroundpapers/differentiated_instruction_udl); and I’m interested to see 1) how familiar my fellow attendees and the presenter are with these overlaps, and 2) how my own background will make me more- or less-suited to a DI approach to teaching.
I have no idea yet how this will go. Stay tuned for more updates! I’ll post during the day if I have wifi access; if not, you’ll hear more from me as the week goes on. Have a lovely week!