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Nine Logical Fallacies of Differentiation Flaws in Our reasoning

Today’s blog caused me to reflect upon understandings of differentiation amongst New Zealand educators. From researchers at university to principals in schools and teachers in classrooms, I have often heard these nine fallacies of differentiation. Myths and misunderstandings like these are often shared as reasons for not differentiating - theoretically or practically, effectively or not so well, for some students or none at all. They are logical fallacies.

Logical fallacies are flaws in reasoning. They are like tricks or illusions of thought, bandwagons, or arguments that are flawed in their content.
Fallacy 1. Differentiation is just individualised learning.

Differentiation is responding to learners’ readiness, strengths and interests, which may be individually determined, but are often common across groups of learners. Therefore, differentiation is not just about individual learners, but it is also about groups of learners sharing common characteristics.

Fallacy 2. Differentiation is a form of ability grouping.

Differentiation is about grouping learners flexibly based upon the learning goals and learner outcomes. This means that grouping may be based on an array of factors, extending beyond abilities to preferences, interests, strengths, friendships and even random groupings.

Fallacy 3. Differentiation is not needed if Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is adopted.

UDL and differentiation are different, but complementary approaches. UDL emphasises the importance of designing classrooms and lessons for accessibility for all learners, whereas differentiation acknowledges that not all learners learn in the same way.

Fallacy 4. Differentiation is a set of teaching strategies.

Differentiation is a philosophy that drives teaching which is based upon knowing learners’ readiness, strengths and abilities and teaching to develop those, using any range of appropriate strategies. Differentiation is a way of thinking about teaching that revolves around a range of strategies selected based on learners.

Fallacy 5. Differentiation is only for gifted students.

Differentiation is for all learners, not just some. Differentiation benefits all students in its responsiveness to differences. It is strengths-based and solution-focused.

Fallacy 6. Differentiation just means giving students choices.

Differentiation does allow for choices in content, process and products, but the choices are teacher- and student- informed. In differentiated classrooms, choices are student-centred and teacher-facilitated.

Fallacy 7. Differentiation is essential to enrichment, but different from acceleration.

Differentiation for gifted students is fundamental to all provisions, across a continuum of approaches, that may be enriched (adding depth and breadth)or accelerated (picking up pace or introducing concepts earlier than expected).

Fallacy 8. Differentiation is the work of specialist teachers.

Differentiation is designed as a way of thinking about teaching and learning in all classrooms, at all levels. While specialist teachers differentiate, students bring their differences - readiness, strengths and interests - to all learning contexts, every day.

Fallacy 9. Differentiation in all classrooms meets the needs of gifted learners.

Differentiation potentially meets the strengths, interests and readiness of gifted students, but only when teachers respond to the unique characteristics of giftedness, acknowledge social and emotional differences, and include opportunities to work with like-minded peers.

“Differentiation is classroom practice that looks eyeball to eyeball with the reality that kids differ, and the most effective teachers do whatever it takes to hook the whole range of kids on learning."

Carol Ann Tomlinson

This blog was written by Tracy Riley as part of the 2018 giftEDnz Blog Challenge. All views expressed are her own.

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