Differentiated Learning

Christian Life School (CLS) has established, for the past 20 years, a differentiated academic learning environment. It provides academic support for students who experience challenges in their executive functioning skills and individuals who are diagnosed with a specific learning challenge. This blog post will explore how differentiated learning is different from tutoring.   

By definition, tutoring describes a tutor as a person who gives individual, or in some cases, small group instruction. The purpose of tutoring is to help students help themselves or to assist or guide them to the point at which they become an independent learner, and thus no longer need a tutor. A differentiated learner uses a mediated learning method. They will not be given answers, but will instead have opportunities to formulate answers on their own. A differentiated learner will have to stop and think about the process using who, what, when, where, and why.

A Differentiated Learning Classroom

The following is an excerpt written by Carol Ann Tomlinson, Jr. Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia. She is a noted differentiation expert and is well known for her assistance in creating classrooms that are more responsive to a broad range of learners. Tomlinson has also co-authored a book on the topic, Leading and Managing a Differentiated Classroom, which is cited in this post.

Most young children in their first year of school can look around their classrooms and easily point out who can already read well; who can draw neatly inside the lines; who struggles with counting; and who likes to find the yuckiest, yet fascinating bugs. Throughout their school education, students also remain aware of their own differences related to learning readiness, interests, and learning profiles. Educators have been intrigued and challenged by this diversity but have not always adequately responded to student-varied needs. Instead, we tend to rely on the teach-to-the-middle or one-size-fits-all approach, expecting all students to do the same activity, work at the same pace, do the same homework, and take the same test.

Typically, the result is frustration on the part of many students—those who find the work unchallenging and therefore boring, those who find the work too challenging, and those whose learning styles or strengths are not engaged. There is also frustration on the part of teachers because they are not reaching every student. So, in their search to create genuinely challenging and engaging learning experiences for their students, many teachers have discovered that they can better meet the diverse needs of their students by differentiating instruction.

In 2001, Christian Life School implemented the Virtual Academy, a computer-based online learning program designed to accommodate the student who desires to learn in a non-traditional classroom environment and provides a Biblically-based curriculum for grades 3-12. In a differentiated learning environment, it’s essential that initial and ongoing assessments of student readiness and growth are taking place. Pre and ongoing evaluations are incorporated into the Virtual Academy’s structure while also informing teachers so they can provide students with a menu of approaches and choices for the varying needs and learning styles of the individual students.

What Is Differentiated Instruction?

In the video Creating Multiple Paths for Learning (1997), Tomlinson says that differentiating instruction means that the teacher anticipates the differences in student’s readiness, interests, and learning profiles and, as a result, creates different learning paths so that students have the opportunity to learn as much as they can as deeply as they can, without undue anxiety because the assignments are too taxing—or boredom because they are not challenging enough.

The teaching pedagogy that exists within the Virtual Academy uses a methodology “mediated learning” created and developed by Dr. Reuven Feuerstein. Pedagogy is the profession of teaching while methodology is the study of methods used in a field. The Feuerstein Method is rooted in the knowledge and belief – affirmed by the notion of neuroplasticity – that human beings are modifiable, and that anyone and everyone, regardless of age, socioeconomic status, cultural background, or disability, is capable of vastly improving their intellectual capabilities. Dr. Feuerstein, a famous Israeli child development expert, has given us a detailed list of 28 cognitive skills or thinking actions to consider as the instructional team guides students through life. Through the process of the Mediated Learning Experience (MLE), these 28 cognitive skills or thinking actions, develop important executive functioning skills to help individuals learn HOW to learn (n.d.). Learning is a continual process and has no age limitations.

Here is a video demonstrating Dr. Feuerstein’s methods in practice.

Application at CLS

LeeAnn Peden, Director of the CLS Virtual Academy

As the Director of the Virtual Academy, Mrs. Peden’s training encompasses all five levels of the Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichments (FIE), Levels I and II in Education Therapy Specialization from the National Institution for Learning Development (NILD) and ACSI (Association of Christian School International) accreditation. All programs are interconnected.

Her training has given her a new understanding of Romans 12:2; “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The Virtual Academy integrates Dr. Feuerstein’s methodology “mediated learning” throughout the curriculum being taught in the Academy.  In addition, the Academy offers a more individualized program utilizing Dr. Feuerstein’s pedagogies, Discovery, for those students and adults who have a more specific learning profile.  In the next blog post, we’ll be going deeper into explaining mediated learning and why it’s so instrumental to students today.