Differentiated Instruction, Understanding by Design, and What Works in Schools

In addition to the first chapter of Instructional Strategies for Middle and Secondary Social Studies I also took time to view a video about three different teaching models: Differentiated Instruction, Understanding by Design, and What Works in Schools. Differentiated Instruction is a model in which teachers take time to reflect on who they’re teaching, stopping to ask the question what the students need and deciding how to respond to those needs. Differentiated Instruction is concerned mainly with the instructional piece of education but it is a model in which teachers look at all students as being capable of learning and of producing knowledge. It is inherently student centered and it is concerned with showing all students meaning in our subjects.

Understanding by Design is a different model which focuses on teaching and assessing for understanding. Teachers must ask themselves what important ideas are worth understanding and what skills or understandings should be learned in their classroom. By using backward design, teachers can plan their class with these end goals (the understandings, skills, etc.) in mind. If a teacher wants students to be able to do or understand C at the end, what steps to we have to take to get there. Even more, Understanding by Design is concerned with “meaning making.” Standards and concepts need to be unpacked in ways in which meaning is revealed to students because many of these meanings are not readily apparent to students in the classroom.

Finally, What Works in Schools is a model that looks at eleven factors that relate to student achievement. These factors can be put into three main groups, school levels factors (like school policies), teacher factors (things directly under the control of teachers, and student level factors (things that students bring to the classroom). One of the main goals of this model is to bring students into assessments so that they take an active role in monitoring their own progress, centering the classroom around the students themselves.

One of the main similarities between all of these is the emphasis that is placed upon the student. All of the models advocate for a more student centered and student driven style of teaching, whether that is in classroom lessons or assessment. Further, all of the models are concerned with placing value in the student to enhance their experience within the classroom and to help teachers bring meaning to the content being taught. But all of these models rely upon the teacher to take the necessary steps to implement these ideas. The commentators in the video frequently talked about how teachers cannot just teach to the standards, they must move beyond the standards, to “unpack” the standards, and to make meaning of them. The main criticism I would have of this video is that there were few specifics on how to do this. Perhaps those specifics are located in the books the commentators wrote a frequently referred to, but the discussion revolved around platitudes that didn’t penetrate the realities of a teacher’s world.

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