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So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation

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For busy teachers, tailoring instruction to meet each student’s needs can seem like an impossible dream. The best of plans and intentions can get waylaid by crowded classrooms, high-stakes tests, diverse learners, and the day-to-day demands of teaching. In his accessible new book, John McCarthy removes one obstacle after another to help teachers refocus on their primary goal: helping all students succeed. So All Can Learn explains why every student deserves differentiated instruction. With McCarthy as knowledgeable guide, the book shows how to clear away assessment fog, clean up data, and clarify why and when students need supports and stretches. With plentiful examples, he shows us the power of differentiation to help all students unlock their potential.

Suzie Boss, education author and project-based learning advocate

“So All Can Learn – A Practical Guide to Differentiation by John McCarthy is a book full of great ideas and suggestions helping to dispel the myth that differentiation is difficult. Each easy to digest chapter comes with practical examples and ideas and includes a reflection at the end. This book is not only good for new teachers but for any teacher who wants a reminder of how good differentiation can make a difference to your students.”

Elizabeth Hutchinson, Head of Schools’ Library Service

So All Can Learn offers a road map for moving from differentiation for some to building a system and culture for differentiation for all.  Where other publications offer ample research and support for differentiation, McCarthy draws on his extensive experience as an educator and national consultant by culling practical and vivid examples of how to differentiate and what differentiation looks like in a variety of classrooms. He unpacks what can be complex relationships and interactions in the differentiated classroom in a way that is straightforward, learner-centric, and readily applicable to a range of educators.

What is most exciting about this book is how McCarthy offers not just the impetus but an organizing framework (in terms of process, assessment, classroom environment, content integration, student choice and readiness skills, practical resources and applications, etc.) to help educators hear and amplify the Learner’s Voice.  McCarthy also delves into the important shifts in mindsets and attitudes that educators must make in order to build multiple and unique pathways to learning,

Content, process, readiness

Katy Fodchuk, Senior Education Consultant & Analyst

In So All Can Learn, John McCarthy provides an essential resource for educators in one of the areas they crave the most: differentiation. This work stands out above others, because it seamlessly weaves actionable strategies with powerful stories to stretch the reader’s thinking. Differentiation can feel overwhelming, but McCarthy provides a framework to make it possible for any teacher at any grade level. More than merely informational, So All Can Learn feels like a dialogue with a trusted colleague. McCarthy is masterful at questioning and promoting reflection, which makes it a must-read for any educator.

Eric White, National Faculty, Buck Institute for Education

In his book, “So All Can Learn… A Practical Guide to Differentiation”, John McCarthy takes his wonderful workshop style of facilitating educator professional development and puts it into the written word. John addresses the key elements of differentiation in the classroom, including the role of the classroom teacher, and taking this concept several steps further than other authors. In his book, John brings differentiation alive by focusing on the important concept of involving student ownership in the learning experience. Each chapter suggests that true differentiation is an intentional plan crafted by the teacher providing a way to allow each student to find the true center of their learning experience. Best of all, the book allows teachers to blend best practice and research with practical steps through the progression of each chapter. In a true spirit of authentic learning the reader is encouraged to “do” while reading and experiencing. This “doing” can be done individually or as a Professional Learning Community immersed in a powerful book study. Each chapter provides research, practical steps, tools, reflection, questions to ponder, and possible guidance for that important next step. As each chapter builds upon itself John opens up a metacognitive experience that provides educators access to differentiation at multiple levels and approaches. With wonderful tools and resources, John has provided educational professionals with a scaffold and a map that provides a culture “So All Can Learn” allowing each student to be at the center of their education.

Mike Gorman, International Educator and renown blogger of 21 st Century Educational Technology and Learning

I enthusiastically, sincerely recommend John McCarthy’s So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation from these perspectives:

  • As an educator, I can use this resource in my planning, collaboration and reflection immediately. The resources and best practices are practical, cleanly organized and richly supported with context that values the realities of a frenetic, dense day.
  • As a colleague, I can personally attest to John’s integrity, work ethic and professional empathy. So All Can Learn is aptly titled: he establishes and does not relinquish the focus of aligning instructional decision-making on behalf of the evolving needs of ALL learners.
  • As a parent, I steadfastly hope that my and others’ children benefit from teachers and administrators who leverage this resource in their curriculum and assessment planning and professional leadership. So All Can Learn unpacks differentiated instruction in thoughtful, innovative ways by championing the voice and choice of children.
  • As an educational leader and professional developer, I objectively attest that John McCarthy has created a resource that powerfully synthesizes the rigor demanded by the most assertive of administrators with the frank experience and technical know-how that committed educators expect around differentiated instruction.

Classroom educators, site and central administrators, coaches and specialists can readily apply So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation within their learning communities. John’s voice is deeply engaging and thoughtful. The practices, resources and frameworks he shares align powerfully with modern, progressive pedagogical and assessment trajectories.

Most importantly, John’s recommendations and perspectives synthesize respected educational theory with his real-time experience as a coach and consultant. Over the last four years, I have personally observed educators across the United States successfully applying innovative, sustainable practices around differentiated instruction in partnership with John McCarthy.

Amos Fodchuk, M.A., N.B.C.T.
Advanced Learning Partnerships, Inc.

John McCarthy brings years of diverse educational experiences to illuminate the topic of differentiation in the classroom. In So All Can Learn, you can expect to gain insight into the history and working definition of differentiated instruction, while learning what makes it accessible and applicable to all learners. McCarthy sheds light on how assessments, both formal and informal, are imperative to meeting the needs of each student while helping you gain confidence in collecting and using the data effectively. What makes this book stand out from others on the same topic is the emphasis it places on the learner. Mr. McCarthy addresses the need to form relationships with every student and to leverage opportunities in the classroom to encourage student voice and agency. Not only does he give you practical application for your own classroom, but provides the research to back it up. So All Can Learn should definitely have a place in your professional library.

Janelle McLaughlin, Educational Consultant

I am an educator of seventeen years and currently serve as an instructional coach. My job is to be a change agent – getting teachers to shift their attitudes about their classrooms and about how their kids learn. As a part of my professional development, I have trained with John McCarthy in creating Authentic Learning Experiences. Training with him has been an amazing benefit to my teachers and me. In working with teachers on ALEs, one of the constant points of tension and frustration has boiled down to differentiation. My important conversations have led revealing a list of issues, some real and some assumed. McCarthy’s book happens to be very timely for a particular project that I have been working on with a team. One of the telling questions that I can ask when working with this particular set of teachers is, “What does that student know? What is that student struggling with?” When a teacher cannot answer this question, it can be assumed that the needs students are not being met. McCarthy’s book has that issue as its heart. He says, “Teaching is being a constant learner who gets how some students think and operate.” Indeed, we have a responsibility to our students. Beyond this message, So All Can Learn is a book that teachers will come back to again and again. Its handling of particular issues associated with differentiation offers an in-depth look at those issues, complete with anecdotes, real-life examples, and immediately applicable tools to put into practice. One final point: McCarthy’s emphasis on practice and patience in that practice not only underscores that becoming skilled at differentiating takes time, but it is also reassuring. McCarthy, in his gentle, encouraging, and honest way, has gifted the learning community with a valuable addition to an integral piece of the discussion.

Tara Barton, Instructional Coach

This exciting new book is just what is needed today! It will help new teachers, as well as those with many years’ experience, reach students in a time-efficient manner. New ideas are fine. But if one doesn’t have the time to implement them, they are not going to happen.

What makes So All Can Learn so relevant is that it gives the information, as well as the encouragement and resources, to create differentiated lessons today! It also shows why student ownership is essential as well as giving ideas on how to gain it. When students are involved in lesson planning and assessment, they’re self-motivated to do a good job.

I remember one fourth grade reading class. My students were of average intelligence or better but you’d never know it looking at their scores. I could see them struggling every day. This book would have been a big help! Its resources, strategies, and guidance would have given me so many great ideas and saved me so much time! Instead I had to invent the wheel by myself.

I also remember one of my favorite third grade math classes. The students came in every day smiling, happy and enthusiastic—until we got to word problems. Then I watched their moods sink. Why? Many of them were reading below grade level. They could do the math, but they couldn’t read the problems. So they didn’t know what they were being asked to do.

When I read about Assessment Fog in Chapter 3, it really resonated with me. That was the problem I had faced. Yes, I solved it, but again, it took a lot of time. If I had had So All Can Learn, with all its resources, I could have created fog free assessments much faster.

This is why So All Can Learn is so valuable. It has, all in one place, the ideas, suggestions and resources that teachers need to help create successful differentiated lessons quickly.

Claire Murray, M.A., L.P.C., N.C.C. (Counselor)

In So All Can Learn, John McCarthy adds his experienced voice to the important topic of differentiation in the classroom. McCarthy shares his expertise and experience from working with hundreds of schools across the country to provide teachers and those who work with them practical strategies for making differentiation in the classroom a reality.

The book provides a combination of background on the benefits of differentiation with a variety of practical strategies that educators at any grade level and content area can incorporate into their classroom. McCarthy provides a scaffolded approach to differentiation that moves from Intuitive to Intentional Differentiation that will be helpful for teachers first embarking upon the differentiation pathway to veteran educators who are looking for practical help to support their colleagues as they explore differentiation practices. My favorite section may be the exploration of common obstacles to differentiation because McCarthy shares many examples of how these fears can be and have been overcome by sharing real stories from real schools. Others may find the great value in the ample detailed description of strategies that any teacher can implement that punctuate every chapter.

Those familiar with the topic of differentiation from education thought leaders like Carol Ann Tomlinson and more recently, Jay McTighe, will find this a helpful companion to that foundational work. The difference in So All Can Learn is the weaving of a rich tapestry of practical advice and stories from real schools that help even the most reluctant understand that differentiated instruction is truly possible.

John D. Ross, PhD, Teacher, Coach & Author

Differentiation. While offering valuable benefits for student learning, it can also cause teacher apprehension as he or she envisions the planning needed for successful implementation in the classroom. But does it have to be like this?

In So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation, John McCarthy communicates reasonable applications that make this theoretical concept accessible for all teachers. He uses analogies that place concepts in familiar backdrops to encourage understanding and gives examples of differentiation in actual classrooms. Having observed teachers who have been in John’s training sessions, I can personally attest to the sustainability of his “lens of differentiation.” His illustrations and perspectives strike a chord with teachers, resulting in a better understanding of the value of differentiation and a willingness to consistently implement it in their classrooms. I am confident that this will be the result for readers of this book, as well. Throughout, readers will experience John’s compassion for reaching all students, but also his understanding of teacher constraints–and his effective communication of the desire to empower both groups.

So All Can Learn is unique in that it is designed to connect both the pedagogy and the practices of differentiation. John draws on established research to support his work, yet ties it to sensible applications that can be implemented immediately. Just as he makes theory accessible and relevant in his trainings, he has done so in this book–and those who read and apply its principles will benefit themselves and their students. They will also see the principles in action because the book is an example of what he conveys, with each chapter offering practical opportunities for reflection, crossroad lesson development, and an extension activity.

As an instructional coach, part of my job is to identify quality resources that teachers can use in their classrooms. I highly recommend So All Can Learn as a valuable resource with applications that help teachers approach differentiation with confidence and impact student learning in a powerful way.

Cathy Hill, Instructional Coach

What I thought would be a quick, affirming read, turned into a deep reflective experience.  Throughout the book, I am reminded of the complexity involved in designing personalized learning opportunities for our learners.  The author makes the complex accessible by packing each chapter with examples, resources and references that direct the focus toward intentional planning and flexibility during delivery.  So All Can Learn is a comprehensive guide to differentiation, and one that I will recommend to colleagues across our partnerships.

Gaynell J. Lyman, MEd., Educator & National Consultant

I have been an instructional coach for the past eight years working towards student centered learning. The problem I encounter is that the concept of meeting all students’ needs is often misunderstood and overwhelming to put into practice. This book provides a deep explanation of the what, why and how of differentiation. McCarthy paints a clear picture by providing differentiation scenarios, planning cycles, and numerous instructional strategies that can be applied to the classroom immediately. I like that this book can be used as a tool for overall understanding as well as a resource for pulling specific strategies for content, process or product ideas. I will definitely use as a “go to” resource for planning and extending units. ​

Sarah Collier, Instructional Coach