Monday, April 4, 2011

Teaching Books: How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed Ability Classrooms by Carol Ann Tomlinson

Last year, I started reading teaching books in preparation of starting off in a new direction in my life. Just because I'm actually teaching doesn't mean I stop reading books about it!

As with my past teaching book posts, this is less a review than a summary of ideas. Hopefully, it will help others interested in education with deciding if this is a book that might be helpful for them to read.

If you've ever read or been in a professional development about differentiation, chances are you know the name Carol Ann Tomlinson. She is one of the most well-known authors in the field of adjusting classroom instruction to meet the needs of varied students. In this small solo effort, Tomlinson describes a bit of her reasoning behind differentiation, but focuses most of the book on actual tips that can be taken into the classroom, particularly for those new to the concept of differentiation.

The book is broken down into chapters that provide insight on the process, how to talk to parents about differentiation, classroom management (particularly important due to the fact that not all students will be doing the same thing at the same time), ideas for beginning differentiation, and breaking down what differentiation looks like within the classroom. All of the advice is practical and usable immediately. The ending sections of the book provide ideas and starter hints for taking a boring, one-size-fits-all lesson, and giving it some zing. Anyone looking for ideas on how to take what was mentioned in a one hour session and turn into a living, breathing part of their everyday instruction can find a lot of what they need within this book.

Differentiation is easy to start, but it will take years to master. Even those who are quite good at finding ways to engage students on their level and in their learning preference will find new ideas in How to Differentiate Instruction. There is an unsaid challenge in this book to really look critically at what you do in the classroom. Could you increase student involvement? Can you allow for a varied product? Are you just giving "busy work" to fast finishers when there is so much more to do? This book definitely gets you thinking, unless you are completely cold to the idea of changing how you teach.

I admit, I'm sold on Tomlinson's ideas, so my feelings towards this book are quite positive. However, even if you are leery of going knee-deep in differentiation (you should, though--the water is fine!), there are ideas you can take away from this book. I think it belongs on the bookshelf of every teacher.

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