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Differentiation and the Brain -Chapter 1

Chapter 1: The Nonnegotiables of Effective Differentiation

I'm very excited to get started with this book; it's a great topic! So far, it's interesting and a pretty quick read. This is summary of the important ideas in the chapter....sometimes I get a little detailed, because I don't want to miss anything!

In Chapter 1, the authors reinforce the idea that differentiated instruction is not new. (This was discussed in the intro). Though students are in classrooms with others of the same age, students are not "the same." In spite of this, and because of all the material there is to cover, many teachers teach their students as if they are the same.
According to research, students will engage more with learning and will learn more robustly when the learning is designed with students' differences (and similarities) in mind. A learner-centered model views the teacher's role as one that is responsible for covering material, but also one that is responsible for maximizing student learning. Whether a student is missing information or has already mastered the current content, a teacher's job is to move each student beyond their current level to ensure that they continue to grow in their knowledge. Differentiation is based on the premise that if a student can't learn efficiently or effectively in one mode, a strong teacher looks for another learning mode that will work.
Sousa and Tomlinson state that the "bedrock of differentiation is a four-part argument that is foundational to effective teaching." Paraphrased, the four parts are:
1) the environment must invite learning - be safe, challenging, supportive
2) teachers should be able to recognize what constitutes essential knowledge, understanding, and skills
3) teachers should "persistently assess student proximity to the essential knowledge, understanding and skills..."
4) when assessment data indicates that a student is confused, has gaps, or has mastered the knowledge, the teacher should use that information to plan future instruction

The authors include a model for differentiation, in diagram form. The diagram describes differentiation as a teacher's response to learner needs; it includes the ideas that shape the teacher's response, names ways to differentiate according to students' factors, and lists a variety of strategies. This is a very detailed and informative diagram....I may need to draw it for myself and hang it in my classroom!

Within the diagram, the five key principles for effective differentiation are as follows (these are described thoroughly in the reading):
1) work in a differentiated classroom is respectful
2) there is a quality curriculum, rooted in the critical ideas of a topic/discipline
3) teachers use flexible grouping on a regular basis
4) teachers use ongoing assessment to guide their instruction
5) the learning environment allows students to feel that they can take risks in learning (this is called building community in the diagram)

The authors end Chapter 1 with the ways in which brain research supports differentiation. These ideas will be discussed more thoroughly in the rest of the book:
1) All brains are organized differently; teaching all students the same way is not brain-compatible.
2) The brain is a "pattern-making machine."
3) Divergent thinking helps to produce new patterns and expand cognitive networks. Differentiation promotes divergent thinking.
4) Emotions play an important role in pattern making; differentiation can offer students more opportunity to reach emotional "aha" moments, which result in chemical releases in the brain and keep learners motivated.
5) Learning is not just a cognitive process, but also a social one; differentiation can provide an environment that is socially nurturing.
6) When information isn't used in a meaningful way, it is not retained in long-term memory. Differentiation can include strategies that make learning more meaningful and memorable.
7) To retain learning, students must be focused and give attention to a topic. The more personally meaningful (through differentiation), the more a student will focus.

In summary, the authors state that differentiation requires teachers to be "mindful" of:
1) how content is structured for meaning
2) who their students are as individuals
3) which classroom elements allow some freedom in connecting content and learners.

Future chapter summaries of this book will be out every few days, on our different blogs: Math Giraffe, The Colorado Classroom, What's New With Leah, and Musings of a History Gal

Check out Chapter 2 here, with Brigid (Math Giraffe)!
Here is Chapter 3, with Brittany at The Colorado Classroom!
Chapter 4 is found here at What's New with Leah!
Andrea reviewed Chapter 5 here, at Musings of a History Gal!
Chapter 6 is here on my blog.
Chapter 7  - back to Brigid!


  1. Very interesting, Ellie. I can't wait to get to my part. If my book isn't here by tomorrow, I'm going to bite the bullet and get the ebook!

  2. It's a very interesting book! I'm learning a lot!

  3. The part about "divergent thinking" has really kicked my mind into gear. Something to think about...


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