The Most Appealing Ideas Expressed by the Author
In this book titled Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessing & Grading in the Differentiated Classroom, Rick Wormeli explored the complexity and diversity of strategies for differentiated teaching and raises a very interesting question concerning the effects such teaching could have on the teachers, as well as their students. In particular, the author wondered whether or not this kind of teaching had limitations and could eventually become overwhelming for the educators using too much differentiation. In addition, Wormeli also expressed his concerns about the impact of differentiated education on the learners who could become used to this type of treatment and eventually grow to expect the rest of the society to adjust to their needs.
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The author responds to the latter issue by saying that the ultimate point of differentiated education is not to make learning easy and simple but to make it more flexible in order to meet the students’ needs of various kinds. The perspective of the author is very interesting as he elaborates on the ways how differentiated learning will help educators deliver knowledge in a more learner-centric and sensitive manner.
Moreover, it is interesting that the author links the lack of differentiated education and the teachers’ knowledge of their individual learners with the children’s dropping out of schools and courses due to their perceived unsuitability for the learners’ needs. In that way, as emphasized by Wormeli, by making education more accessible and comprehensible for the students. The educators would be able to encourage them to continue studying and never give up on complex and demanding courses.
Additionally, the author emphasizes that differentiation is opposed to the approach used in old-fashioned teaching strategies where the students who failed to take the grasp of certain material right away are encouraged simply to learn it by heart. In that way, the teacher seems to act in a selfish manner accomplishing his or her mission superficially; this behavior could be likened to fraud where instead of actual change, the agent facilitates its imitation to cover up their failure.
The Implications of the Ideas in the Book for Me as an Educator
The book under review carries many different implications for me as an educator. First of all, it encourages teachers to treat their professional duties and tasks in a fair and honest manner and to prevent the superficial teaching that occurs under the lack of differentiated approach. Secondly, the author paid a lot of effort attempting to discuss differentiated teaching and explain to the readers that it is, in fact, a very valuable concept and a useful strategy. The author did so because he knew he was addressing a common stereotype that differentiation is nothing but making the learning easier and convincing the students that the world revolves around them and everything will always match their individual needs.
The information presented by the author in this book focuses on assessment in differentiated learning that, of course, needs to match the general approach. In other words, the implication for me as an educator is that since the knowledge and new information are to be delivered in a flexible manner matching the individual needs and learning styles of the students, the assessment practices require diversity as well. In particular, it seems that the author suggests that separate assessment instructions need to be developed for every evaluation session and every differentiated test. This implication is rather logical because since the learners may have different levels of mastery, as well as different achievement levels, an educator has to present everyone with a fair feedback and assessment.
In addition, the implication also may be that I, as an educator, would have to become more attentive to my assessment guidelines and, in some cases, pay much more effort than usually developing approaches to assessment, methods, and interpreting the results.
The Ideas that I Challenge
Even though I enjoyed learning from this book a lot and find it extremely valuable, I would like to challenge a couple of ideas expressed by the author.
First of all, at the very beginning of the book, Wormeli explained the mechanism according to which differentiated teaching works by using an analogy with teaching two students with different eyesight capacities. To be more precise, the author states that equalizing the condition of the two children and removing the glasses used by the student with weak eyesight would provide him with an excuse to skip the lesson due to not being able to keep up with the instruction physically. In that way, providing the students with tools and techniques that meet their learning needs keeps them challenged and engaged with the lesson. However, the problem is that the curricula are often fixed and have stable and standard requirements where all students need to reach a certain level of mastery to graduate. Providing some of them with tasks matching their level of academic achievement would likely keep them at that level without encouraging any growth.
In addition, I would like to wonder if differentiated assessment stands for differentiated grades. Let us suppose that there is a high-achieving student who was given a solid B+ for their work, and there is a low-achiever, who did a very good job for their level as well. Both students will be given the same grade for different levels of knowledge. That seems rather confusing. This way, my question is – will differentiated learning bring about a broader spectrum of grades?