What Are the Problems With Differentiated Instruction?

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Differentiated instruction is inherent in quality instruction. Teachers differentiate to help each child learn and progress with methods that are specifically tailored to the child's academic needs. In a perfect classroom situation, differentiation ensures that students master essential skills. This is part of the problem--no ideal situation can exist for a long period of time. Here is an outline on some of the drawbacks to differentiated instruction.

1 Class Size

It is hard to implement differentiated instruction in a classroom of over 20 students. The value of this teaching style lies in the grouping of students by academic ability and need. The ideal size for learning groups is three to five, no more than seven. Therefore, a class of 30 students would necessitate four or more groups, which is hard to manage and teach effectively.

2 Professional Staff

One teacher cannot differentiate alone. The teacher might design activities and plan lessons, but implementation will require the help of a classroom assistant, at least on a part-time basis. Team teaching may work, but if the class has two struggling groups of students, more one-on-one help will be needed. Many schools cannot afford two or more staff in a classroom at one time.

3 Resources

Differentiated instruction requires that a variety of materials and resources be available for students with differing learning styles. For example, some students may learn a skill by practicing at a website, some may need to learn through the use of manipulatives and hands-on activities, and others may need to see a videotape of a skill being practiced. Whatever the method, these strategies require that teachers have a great number of available resources. Schools in low socioeconomic areas may not have the advantage of these assets because of financial concerns in their district and state.

4 Administrative Support

Differentiated instruction is quality instruction, but it may look like organized chaos at times. Traditional principals who like for students to be at their desks and work quietly may not like how a classroom looks if students are moving from one activity to another, interacting and getting up often. Teachers need to enlist support by talking to their principals often about progress being made. If test scores are going up and students are making progress, it will be easier to get the principal's approval.

5 Parental Support

Support from parents is an absolute must for differentiated instruction to have an impact, because students can reinforce lessons learned in the classroom at home. Teachers will need to communicate often with parents about what their child is learning and how their child learns best. If a particular method seems incomprehensible to the parents, they may not be able to help their child or may undermine progress that has been made.

Karen Hollowell has been teaching since 1994. She has taught English/literature and social studies in grades 7-12 and taught kindergarten for nine years. She currently teaches fourth grade reading/language and social studies. Hollowell earned her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Mississippi and her Master of Arts in elementary education from Alcorn State University.