Professional Development
Variability Not Disability
International Reading Association, 1996
Cathy M. Roller

Three years before The Differentiated Classroom by Carol Ann Tomlinson hit the shelves and became a staple in many schools in America, Cathy Roller communicated a similar message in Variability Not Disability. Roller's book, which details her work in a residential summer camp for students with learning difficulties, makes the case for viewing students with learning disabilities as students with learning differences. During their time in the program, students are immersed in a reading workshop. The workshop looks much like any other workshop. In her workshop, Roller faces a challenge that many others don't experience: Roller's students arrive with deep and abiding prejudices against reading. Her results have been remarkable.

Those with a good understanding of workshops can attest to the fact that teaching in this way not only accommodates learning differences, but that the learning differences actually contribute to the success of the workshops. Students validate each others' ideas and come up with unique ways of seeing things and demonstrating knowledge. Those behaviors are integral to a successful workshop. Students in Roller's summer program brought those abilities to the table. In order to accomplish progress toward the goal of literate behaviors, the students were nurtured and their abilities were refined.

While it is true that some learning differences require intervention with strategies found outside of workshops, it is also important to acknowledge the clear links between the acclaimed principles of a differentiated classroom and those used by Roller and her differently skilled students. One of the recurrent themes in her book is that all students can learn in a system that respects their abilities. Classrooms (whether unique like Roller's, or common in workshop format across America) in which flexibility, collaboration, appreciation of differences, and a clear focus about what matters in the curriculum are present, will produce great student learning.

The Differentiated Classroom
ASCD, 1999
Carol Ann Tomlinson

The Differentiated Classroom is a book for teachers who strive to do whatever it takes to ensure that the students in their classrooms grow as much as possible. Many teachers were teaching this way long before it had a name or was recognized as an educational movement. Teachers individualized instruction, maximized potential, and utilized a variety of flexible strategies in order to move students forward. Tomlinson's book validates those efforts and makes the case for other classrooms to follow suit.

The principles that guide differentiated classrooms aren't revolutionary, but they serve as solid guidelines which can result in classroom success. They are:

  • The teacher focuses on the essentials.
  • The teacher attends to student differences.
  • Assessment and instruction are inseparable.
  • The teacher modifies content, process, and products.
  • All students participate in respectful work.
  • The teacher and students collaborate in learning.
  • The teacher balances group and individual norms.
  • The teacher and students work together flexibly.

Throughout the book, Tomlinson shares examples from real classrooms and a variety of innovative strategies that can help teachers act according to the principles listed above. Some of the strategies may seem familiar, but others will be new. With the strategies, Tomlinson explores the what, how, and why of differentiating in this way. Finally, she deals with the issue that can make or break differentiation in the classroom—the management of a classroom in which differentiated instruction is a priority. She walks teachers through the process of getting started and growing into success with this philosophy of reaching all children at their level of challenge and helping them to maximize their potential.

Professional Development
Journal Articles
“The Role of Emotion in Differentiated Instruction”
Claudia M. Shelton
Classroom Leadership, ASCD
November 2003, volume 7, number 3

In recent years, much attention has been paid to the role of the teacher in planning for differentiated instruction in classrooms. This article looks at the issue from a different angle: the role emotion plays in students' learning. Students who are “stuck” in negative emotional behavior patterns will pose unique instructional challenges to teachers who try to move them forward to higher levels of achievement.

Shelton points out that by introducing basic skills in emotional awareness and social-emotional learning in the classroom, she was able to help students become aware of and develop unique emotional patterns of learning. Through individual and small-group coaching, students identified emotional skills that increased their effectiveness as students. Students (Grades 5 and above were noted in the article but the principle may be adapted for younger students as well) designated their targeted skills in a “contract” and used the contract to regularly monitor their progress.

By taking the time to help students understand the way their emotions affect performance on school tasks, teachers equip students with skills that will extend far beyond the current content being taught. When teachers become aware of the emotional characteristics affecting their students, they can differentiate for them in ways not previously possible. In evaluating the way a class may benefit from differentiated instruction, consideration of each student's emotional situation of students may help to reach some students previously regarded as “unreachable.”