Monday, June 29, 2015

Differentiation & the Brain - Chapter 3: Curriculum

I've been doing a lot of reading lately and one book I've been reading with my Tools for Teaching Teens Team is Differentiation and the Brain by David Sousa and Carol Tomlinson.  I'm here to talk about chapter 3, Curriculum & Differentiation, but if you haven't read Chapter 1 yet head back to Ellie's blog.  And Chapter 2 is on Brigid's blog.

Chapter 3 spends most of its time defining what qualifies as quality curriculum because the quality of the curriculum not only communicates to the student our regard for them and their potential, but also without quality curriculum we fail to really teach our students no matter how much we differentiate the material.  In defining quality curriculum the authors lay out 5 key characteristics.
1. The curriculum should be organized around essential content goals.
2. The curriculum should be aligned with the content goals, assessments, and learning experiences.
3. It should be focused on student understanding.
4. The curriculum should be engaging for the students.
5. It must be authentic.

Through further explanation of these characteristics we learn that two key questions must be answerable for students when they are given material to learn and digest.
*** Does this make sense?
*** Does this have meaning?

When learning both makes sense and has meaning for a student, it is more likely to be remembered and retained in their memory for recall and use later.  Therefore, if we can integrate the curriculum more, rather than compartmentalize learning, it will help to establish meaning and thus increase learning.

Who hasn't had a student ask, "Why do we have to know this? When am I ever going to use this?" The quality curriculum that has meaning and makes sense, answers these two questions.  If a student is asking these two questions, they clearly have not reached meaning or sense of the information as of yet.

Along with this is the idea that learning must be relevant to the student to enhance their understanding of the material.  When learning is relevant, it increases student motivation, which develops neural circuitry, which in turns increases student achievement.  Thus the most important tasks are those that ask students to take their basic knowledge and skills and use them to explore and extend their understanding, not simply recall facts and figures.

Something that struck me in the reading and is very different than how I was taught to differentiate curriculum in college is that the authors do not believe that curriculum should come first and then be differentiated to meet student's needs.  Rather they believe that differences in students should be anticipated and incorporated as the curriculum is being developed.

This chapter points us towards a better outcome by encouraging the use of meaningful, appropriate lessons based around how we lead the students to reach an objective of attaining expertise in a content goal. We do this by applying what we know about the students to the lesson, rather than simply applying a hard curriculum to the students. The lesson should be molded to the students in order to let the knowledge sink in.

Now, to read on and learn about chapter four and Assessment and Differentiation, visit Leah's blog.


  1. The idea of flipping the order of learning needs and curriculum development is definitely counter-intuitive to me. This is an important book--thank you for summarizing ch. 3!