Differentiation During the Pandemic

Academic InsightDifferentiation During the Pandemic

November 15, 2021

“Differentiation is a journey that all teachers must take,” writes Sally Reis, Distinguished Professor and Education Psychology Chair at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education in a 2015 article. “With multiple levels of achievement, interests, readiness, learning and product styles represented in each classroom, effective and meaningful differentiation may be the most important attribute of the 21st century teacher.”

While a vocal minority of educators may push back on the idea that different learners require different supports to master the same standards—including James Deslisle in a widely-circulated opinion piece from 2015—the vast majority recognize the reality that Carol Ann Tomlinson, a foremost expert on differentiated instruction, asserts in her convincing rebuttal to Deslisle: “Differentiating instruction well is not easy. But then, I’ve never felt that teaching should be easy.”

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Economic and Educational Inequality

Planning and executing lessons for students at different ability levels requires tremendous skill. And the truth is that widening economic inequalities brought on by the pandemic have added to this challenge. Data from Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker have shown that affluent families have tended to bounce back quickly from the economic down-turn while low-wage workers took a much harder initial hit and have been slower to recover. These disparities in the economy have turned into disparities in the schoolhouse. A McKinsey & Company Report has documented the ways in which Covid-19 has widened long-standing achievement gaps, especially for Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous communities. And at the classroom level, disparities are widening as well. Researchers from NWEA in conjunction with four U.S. universities established that students in a typical fifth-grade classroom before the pandemic might cover a range of seven grade-levels in terms of their math skill. When the researchers layered on pandemic achievement data, however, the spread increased to nine grade-levels.

Congress Recognizes the Challenge

“Reaching students at varying levels of academic proficiency was already a major challenge for educators before the pandemic,” concludes Beth Hawkins in her reporting for The 74, a non-profit news site covering education in America. “In COVID’s wake, determining what skills each child might have missed during the crisis and figuring out how to fill the gaps presents a daunting challenge.” Congress has certainly recognized the scope and urgency of this problem in passing the American Rescue Plan (ARP) last March, with $122 billion allocated to K-12 schools for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER). Indeed, the legislation outlines that “at least 20 percent of the money provided...must be spent to address lost learning” and specifically calls on schools to “implement evidence-based practices.”

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Yup Supports with Differentiation

Yup’s Math Learning Support System is ARP ESSER-approved and can offer the exact support that classroom teachers will need in confronting the challenge of differentiating during the pandemic, and after it. When classrooms span a wide range of skill levels, teachers can leverage Yup’s High Dosage Tutoring approach to help accelerate learning for students who need it most or to stretch students who are prepared to move beyond the grade-level standards. To use Yup, students simply snap a photo of their math problem and connect to a tutor via a web browser or phone app. In seconds, the tutor and student start solving the problem together. Yup tutors balance questioning and explanation to ensure long-term, conceptual understanding while making students feel heard and supported. Many districts have found it helpful to bring Yup into their math classrooms, allowing students to access Yup’s expert tutors during class just as they could outside of school hours.

Administrators: See how Yup’s services accelerate Math learning. Yup will collaborate with leadership teams to integrate High Dosage Tutoring into the school day and curriculum.

Teachers: Check out what other educators are saying about Yup.

Contact partnerships@yup.com to learn more about bringing Yup to your school or district.

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