"For a theory of human differences to be useful, what we actually want to do (ironically enough) is not to celebrate each person’s uniqueness. We may accept that each person is unique but acting as though they are amounts to throwing in the towel. We’re saying 'I cannot benefit from my experience in teaching others. Each person is unique, so there’s no telling how this person before me will react to a given type of teaching, or lesson plan.'
"What we actually want is a theory of human differences that allows us to create categories. Consider that we categorize novel objects all the time. I may never have seen a particular dog, but by categorizing it as 'dog,' I benefit from my experience with other dogs. I know it has lungs, that it eats, that it is probably friendly but might bite, and so on.
"For a theory of human differences to be useful to educators, we need to be able to assess what type of learner someone is and for that to tell us some unseen properties of the learner. Then the labeling of the learner brings some benefit."
This provocative argument is made by University of Virginia Psychology Professor Daniel Willingham, one of several contributors to CAST's Multimedia Conversation on the Variability of Learners. The conversation is a series of reflections on "The Variability of Learners," a chapter from the new book Universal Design for Learning: Theory & Practice.
Other contributors include:
- Milton Chen, Senior Fellow, George Lucas Educational Foundation
- Kathy Denniston, elementary school teacher
- Richard Ellenson, parent advocate and founder, Panther Technology
- Lisa Thomas, Associate Director of Educational Issues, American Federation of Teachers
- Elizabeth Stein, middle-school teacher and mentor, Smithtown, NY
- and 7th-grade students from Chelmsford, MA
The respondents address the huge continuum of human difference that educators must account for in designing and implementing learning experiences that serve many individuals. (And they use multiple means of expression, including writing, video, and drawing, to comment.)
Check it out—and join the conversation!