Pedagogy, Collaboration, and Differentiated Instruction

I am working with the world languages department and the administration at our school to help redesign the department’s curriculum. Our goals are to:

  • increase opportunities for personalization
  • nurture world language learners throughout all four years of their high school career
  • advocate for the vitality of a world languages program in the face of an increasingly global context

At the outset of this collaboration, I was especially interested in framing language learning as an issue of literacy. This focus helped me find useful resources as we collaborated to define the challenges and work ahead.

As we worked together, we recognized a shared concern: how to motivate and support students of varying abilities as they work in the same classroom. By offering heterogenous classes, especially at the beginning levels, we would be able to develop a core language learning experience that opens up to more varied and challenging electives. This would challenge teachers to collaborate across languages as well as help us increase students’ opportunities for personalization.

To do this, we are learning more about differentiated instruction. We are referencing a wonderful book by Deborah Blaz, Differentiated Instruction: A Guide for World Language Teachers. This book is an outstanding resource because it not only gives a strong pedagogic case for differentiated instruction (what it is, how it works, why it can be helpful, etc), but it also gives very practical examples that can be employed in the classroom.

Differentiation can occur in several different ways. One of the first examples that comes to mind is to differentiate by ability. However, a teacher can also differentiate according to content, interest, or even learning style. The process of differentiated instruction emphasizes a need for teachers to get to know their students and provide resources to help meet course requirements in a variety of ways.

Libraries could be essential centers for differentiated instruction. That is, teachers who differentiate need a set of resources that help support multiple modes of study. Libraries could be not only the location of the resources, but they could also help learners learn about themselves as they choose which tools to use.

Libraries should be supports for teachers, too. When teachers re-examine pedagogy and design new courses, it can feel overwhelming. Calling all librarians! Librarians are in a perfect position to recommend resources, refine research questions, and navigate bottlenecks to help this creative process feel fruitful and manageable.

We do this work with students all the time. Our interstitial position in schools can help us liaise between collaborators and negotiate expertise. The more that school librarians can support pedagogy, the more we will fulfill our promise and garner support in our institutions.

Have you done work with differentiated instruction? Have you collaborated with your teachers in meaningful ways? Leave a note in the comments below and share your experience.


Author: Mark Dzula

Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Professional Development, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

1 reply

  1. Part of what I appreciate about this collaboration is that I get to research our chosen approach. While I present differentiated instruction as a fruitful avenue in the blog above, I have found compelling counter-arguments that critique differentiated learning.

    I especially appreciate Nicole Bannister’s critique “Breaking the spell of differentiated instruction through equity pedagogy and teacher community” (Cultural Studies of Science Education (2016) 11:335–347).

    She debunks a few common myths, including: students need more direct instruction and routine practice, learning styles are best practice, differentiated instruction does not lead to within-classroom tracking practices, and all students are positioned as competent and capable.

    Instead, Bannister supports “complex instruction” as a pedagogical design to encourage equity. I have more to learn about this approach, but it seems like my next reading will be:

    Cohen, E. G., & Lotan, R. A. (2014). Designing groupwork: Strategies for the heterogeneous classroom (3rd
    ed.). New York: Teacher’s College Press.

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