2011-06-17 / School

Differentiated Instruction Committee Presents Findings

By Stephanie Petrellese

The Garden City Board of Education and a handful of residents welcomed a new day as the June 14th school board meeting continued past midnight, in large part due to a comprehensive presentation given by the district’s differentiated instruction committee.

Differentiated instruction has been an issue of concern for a group of parents, several of whom have routinely spoken on the topic at school board meetings throughout the year. The Power- Point presentation was led by Dr. Teresa Prendergast, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. The committee’s main purpose was to assess the status of differentiated instruction in classrooms and to develop an improvement plan.

“As a district we are now committed to this goal, and we have to recognize that this is a journey,” she said. “This is not something that is going to happen overnight, but we have to recognize the fact that it is in the best interest of students and in supporting our faculty, it is a journey worth traveling.”

What is differentiated instruction? Dr. Prendergast provided a definition from Carol Ann Tomlinson, author of “The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners,” one of the books used during the committee’s research. According to Tomlinson, differentiated instruction is a “teaching philosophy based on the premise that teachers should adapt instruction to student differences. Rather than marching students through the curriculum lockstep, teachers should modify their instruction to meet students’ varying readiness levels, learning preferences and interests.” It is based upon the principle that all children learn best when the instruction is responsive to their individual strengths and is adapted to a child’s own learning style.

A committee established to focus on the issue began meeting in November and presented its findings on Tuesday evening. Committee members included parents from the PTA and SEPTA, as well as administrators and teachers.

Members reviewed the committee’s charge, district goals and mission statement. They appointed subcommittees to work on specific goals. The committee surveyed classroom teachers with regard to what takes place in the classroom on a daily basis. Members wanted to be assured that what is taking place in the classroom is aligned with best practices. Exemplary classrooms were identified in other districts, and site visits were made as needed. In January the committee worked with representatives from Hofstra University.

In addition, a group of 10 faculty and staff members participated in a professional learning community at Garden City Middle School. Their goal is to ensure that effective differentiated learning and teaching practices are being implemented at the middle school level. Members first conducted a faculty survey and then took the results and offered a workshop that encouraged teachers to share strategies. A reference book was developed for teachers to use as a resource for lesson development.

In April, 50 parents participated in focus groups. The feedback was considered by the committee to be invaluable as they developed recommendations to present to the school board. Recommendations include: offering in-service courses and staff development opportunities focusing on differentiated practices and mathematics instruction for teachers; sharing resources developed by the middle school PLC and the district committee with kindergarten through eighth grade teachers; distributing a new pamphlet on the issue, as well as curriculum guides, to parents during back to School Night; expanding primary and elementary school professional libraries to include DI resources; and administering parent and student interest surveys in the fall to help teachers understand their students’ learning styles, needs and interests.

Other recommendations include: inviting Hofstra University professors to conduct faculty workshops; attending conferences promoting gifted and talented education; increasing efforts to provide parents with opportunities to communicate with teachers about curricula, student progress and classroom activities; providing parents with opportunities to participate in future focus group initiatives; continuing the partnership with a literacy consultant to enhance elementary balanced literacy instruction; refining elementary school schedules to maximize class instructional time; and communicating district expectations for DI to teachers.

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