Spaghetti Sauce and Differentiated Instruction

Titles are supposed to grab the readers attention. This one is more like, huh? Bear with me for a minute.

The credit for spaghetti sauce part of this title goes to Malcolm Gladwell, one of my favorite authors. Once you get over the fascination with his hair, and listen to what he says, how can you not be mesmerized by his ideas and theories?

The second part of the title is an instructional strategy used by teachers from coast to coast to work with  diverse groups of “learners” in the classroom. While doing some research on differentiated instruction resources for our teachers I came across Gladwell’s talk on spaghetti sauce on TED’s website (video here- it is 17 minutes but fascinating). Thanks to Bill Ferris and his Instructify blog  post for pointing me in this direction.

While he does not mention differentiated instruction once during his talk, Gladwell points to the brilliance of how the food industry developed different types of pickles, mustard, spaghetti sauce, coffee, etc., as a means to meet the needs and wants of the consumer.One size does not fit all. I know what I like (dill pickles, Grey Poupon, Rao’s marinara sauce, and Starbuck’s french roast) and when given the choice I will always pick out my favorites. Just ask my wife why I enjoy doing grocery shopping. What are your favorites? I bet they are different from mine. (Note- if I am invited over to your house for dinner I will eat whatever you serve.)

Ok, so to my question, how do we adopt a diversified approach to teaching our students? That is not easy and I surely don’t have any really good answers myself. What if one student learns best by standing at her desk in class while another has to manipulate it with his hands to learn?

Differentiated Instruction, the layering of lessons or assignments for different types of learners, is one tested and strategic approach that can make a difference. It contends, like Gladwell, one size does not in fact fit all. However, putting it into practice is easier said than done.  For starters, maybe we should take our students to the grocery store every year and see which spaghetti sauce they pick out? It might just help us figure out who is who in our classroom. Then we can plan the best way to reach them. It also might help me decide who I will “mooch” from at the lunch table- just kidding.

One thought on “Spaghetti Sauce and Differentiated Instruction

  1. Joe,

    I agree that one size doesn’t fit all — and that differentiated instruction is a lot easier said (or blogged?) than done in the classroom.

    By the way, didn’t MG also write a piece, speaking of food, on why there are lots of different kinds of mustard, but that when it comes to catsup, there’s really just one brand that works?

    Jim “please pass the Grey Poupon” Power

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