Teaching to the Extremes

Or, Differentiated Instruction…


What do you do when you teach a fifth grade class that consists of thirty students and amongst those thirty students, you have one who can pass an LSAT test and another who can’t count down from ten? Welcome to Mr. Morris’ 2015-16 classroom. Differentiated instruction? Pfff. I am talking about teaching extremes here.


Ever since I became a teacher, the biggest, baddest, most bold buzzword belonged to the trope of differentiated instruction. It was drilled into us in the teacher preparation program. Provide students with multiple means or methods to demonstrate their learning. Afford your children the opportunity to illustrate their skill through more than a pen and paper test. Students have multiple intelligences; some are kinesthetic learners, others are stronger in a heavily linguistic atmosphere and some excel visually or spatially. Teachers must cater to all types. This is the way we get the most out of each and every student. It all makes sense to me and in fact I have witnessed Gardner’s theory in play throughout the year in my classroom.


But I have never had to dole out differentiated instruction like I had to this year. Government and board-wide cutbacks to education extended their hand in recent years which means many specialized programs have folded for the sake of the all mighty dollar. So I am left in the classroom trying to provide one student with enough engaging just so I don’t stifle the potential of the next possible Steve Jobs while trying to teach the student, who happens to sit right beside him, how to count by two’s. Did I mention that I teach fifth grade?


Besides our taxes, how do cutbacks to education serve a purpose? I could aid both of these students to the best of their potential if there was an opportunity to work more closely with them on a continual basis. But besides them, I have 28 other students who need my guidance and attention. Even with the other 28, there is still a range within my class (much like every other class, everywhere) of students who are able and eager to analyze Of Mice and Men while others are still learning how to decode words. Shit! Being a teacher ain’t no joke.


To answer my own question, cutbacks only hurt these students. Differentiated instruction is valuable and essential to learning. It is helpful to both students and teachers. Teachers must provide students with opportunities to thrive in their own element or, at the least, multiple elements that allow us and them to understand that school, much like life, is about possessing varying personal flexibilities. But teaching to the extremes merely hurts every student in the room. When the learning dynamic is that diverse it does everyone a disservice.


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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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