Differentiated instruction is both an administrative and teacher skill meant to provide holistic education to students. Differentiated instruction is primarily designed in such a way that it considers dynamic student capabilities and skills in grasping important educational concepts. Differentiated instruction is therefore aimed at meeting the needs of all students (at least on a group, if not an individual level) (Heacox, 2009, p 4). In other words the differential instruction approach is based on the premise that instructional approaches ought to be undertaken in a dynamic manner which suits the needs and capabilities of different students (Heacox, 2009, p 4).
This technique is often encouraged in educational studies because it considers student backgrounds (with regards to how ready they are to learn; their language orientation; learning preferences; and their interest while taking part in the learning process) (Moll, 2003, p. 13). Differential instruction is therefore an approach used in both teaching and learning (especially for students who have different abilities and learn in the same environment). This technique responds to unique student needs, and in a deeper sense, improves the instructional responsiveness of a dynamic number of student profiles.
Considering the importance of such a teaching technique in the learning process, many administrators, and more so, principals, have realized the need to ensure such an approach is implemented in an effective manner. In ensuring high standards of teaching is maintained, a principal walk-through process is often undertaken to ensure teaching is done in a reflective manner to augment teacher, administrator, peer and student inputs (to improve the entire learning experience).
This process usually occurs with or without the knowledge of teachers, but it is important to note that its frequency is normally very high, and from a general point of view, principal walk-throughs are basically a part of the teacher’s duties (Downey, 2010, p. 1). One of the main objectives of this process is to make every teacher become more self-analytical and more accountable for their work, although other secondary objectives include improving the collaboration among education stakeholders and improving the professional teacher learning process (Downey, 2010, p. 1). These factors withstanding, this study will scrutinize differentiated instruction and the necessary knowledge for principal walk-throughs in the evaluation of teachers.
Differentiated instructions in the Curriculum
In undertaking a principal walk-through, or in the improvement of learning process, it is important to note that differentiated instructions can be integrated into the curriculum from three fronts. The first is the content; the second is the process and the third is the product (Superintendent’s Council, 2006, p. 2). When principals undertake a differential instruction walk-through, with the aim of evaluating teacher performance, it is important that they understand the above concepts because such concepts primarily define the blueprint through which teachers use to impart knowledge to the students (using differentiated instruction). Also, for new teachers (who may not be well versed with the differentiated instruction approach) the analysis of differentiated instruction, and how it is augmented with the curriculum, can enable them grow professionally because it orients them with the differentiated instruction technique
When referring to the content component of the curriculum, differential instruction seeks to refer to the big picture of the entire learning process, or in simpler terms, what the students are supposed to learn (Superintendent’s Council, 2006, p. 6). Here, more reference is made on how students access the contents of the study and how the task design of the study is developed to ensure students carry out learning tasks (which are aligned to the learning goals) (Superintendent’s Council, 2006, p. 8). With regards to the process element of curriculum development, differential instruction ensures that flexible grouping is applied consistently throughout the learning process (Superintendent’s Council, 2006, p. 8). This is where the differential instruction derives its advantage of catering to the unique needs of each student (flexibility). Lastly, the product element of the curriculum is actually the end-product of the learning process. This is also the ultimate stage that principals scrutinize when evaluating teacher performance, because the product stage of the curriculum is often a representation of what the students have learnt at the final stage of the learning process. At this stage of curriculum development, differentiated instruction ensures formative and summative evaluations are carried out. Also at this stage of the curriculum, the expectations and requirements of students are normally varied, and each student normally feels challenged with regards to the difference in the program expectations and its actual expectations (Superintendent’s Council, 2006, p. 8).
The first step principals should take in the walk-through process is observing student orientation in the classroom to examine what they are doing when the learning process is in progress. Secondly, Downey (2010, p. 3) points out that principals should scrutinize the differentiated instruction curriculum guide because most teachers use such kind of guidelines in the implementation of differentiated instructions. A scrutiny of the guidelines will practically imply the scrutiny of the entire instructional differential program because from a general perspective, it acts as the guideline for the implementation of differentiated instructions (Downey, 2010, p. 3).
In detail, principals should look for learning targets during the walk-through process so that they determine the difference between the expected and actual targets. Principals should therefore compare the objectives of the curriculum and the attainment of the expected and actual targets of differentiated instruction (Downey, 2010, p. 3). Also, in scrutinizing the curriculum, principals should check the standards of learning and the standards the curriculum intends to impart on the students (with regards to the teaching practices applied).
It is also important that when undertaking teacher evaluation, principals should observe instructional decisions, for example, the use of nonlinguistic expressions, group activities, practice designs and such like parameters (Downey, 2010, p. 3). These factors basically define teacher instructional strategies. In addition, principals should “walk through the walls”, meaning that they should evaluate what happens on student bulletin boards; what appears on the classroom walls and other uncommon areas like classroom ceilings. These zones are identified by Downey (2010, p. 4) as critical indicators to the effectiveness of differentiated instructions. Finally, principals should look out for health and safety concerns in the classroom as a general and final walk-through procedure. This entails a careful scrutiny on class temperatures, lightning, instances of torn carpeting, dangerously hanging wires and the likes.
In concluding the walk-through process, principals should undertake a reflective analysis. The reflective stage should scrutinize instructional practices that the teachers consider the most important, and beneficial in the learning process (Downey, 2010, p. 4). The second step (in the reflective analysis process) entails outlining a reflective question which encompasses common practices from observed data (Downey, 2010, p. 4). When coming up with the reflective questions, principals should consider the contextual conditions which guide the teacher in making important decisions; for example, the type of students to be taught, the contents of the learning program (and similar parameters). Lastly, principals should consider the teaching practices applied by the teacher, the criteria for choosing the teaching practice, decisions regarding the teaching actions and ultimately the impact of such decisions on the students.
Differentiated instruction is often encouraged in educational studies because it considers student backgrounds (with regards to how ready they are to learn; their language orientation; learning preferences; and their interest while taking part in the learning process). This study identifies that differential instruction is an approach used in both teaching and learning (especially for students who have different abilities and learn in the same environment). This learning approach responds to unique student needs, and in a deeper sense, improves the instructional responsiveness of a dynamic number of students.
However, when carrying out principal walk-throughs to evaluate teacher performance, this study points out the fact that the walk-through process should be undertaken in a subtle manner, and should involve reflective questions and conversations as opposed to telling the teachers what they ought to do (or not do). The latter strategy has been affirmed by Downey (2010) as ineffective in teacher evaluation. Nonetheless, this study identifies the fact that encouraging teachers to be more self-analytical when incorporating the differential instructional technique goes a long way in creating powerful learning because it helps teachers improve their teaching choices.
Downey, C. (2010). Classroom Walk-through. Web.
Heacox, D. (2009). Making Differentiation a Habit: How to Ensure Success in Academically Diverse Classrooms. New York: Free Spirit Publishing.
Moll, A. (2003). Differentiated Instruction Guide for Inclusive Teaching. New York: NPR Inc.
Superintendent’s Council. (2006). Differentiated Instruction. Web.