How do you make decisions about your own actions for students in a differentiated classroom? What is your criteria for intervention.
BBC active defines differentiation” by the Training and Development Agency for Schools as ‘the process by which differences between learners are accommodated so that all students in a group have the best possible chance of learning.” Let’s just say this is a task I think we can all accomplish if we use the rules of thumbs for DI provided by Tomlinson (2001) which are: clear key concepts, assessments as road maps, lessons for all students that emphasize critical and creative thinking, engaging lessons, and a balance of teacher/student selected materials. For me it is a matter of taking these concepts and rolling with the obstacles that get in the way. In other words, I need to just breathe and be flexible.
I’d like to say for sometime now I have considered myself more of a facilitator of learning rather than a traditional teacher. Which according to Tomlinson I am on the right track with his statement, “When teachers differentiate instruction, they move away from seeing themselves as keepers and dispensers of knowledge and move towards seeing themselves as organizers of learning opportunities (p.16).” I believe with the advent of the internet and technology we have a powerful tool at our fingertips that allows us to steer students in the direction that will lead to maximum growth, a tool that was not available to traditional teachers. These tools allow us to differentiate learning in way that makes us more of a facilitator of learning knowledge rather than a keeper of knowledge.
First and foremost, I always start with some sort of pre-assessment data. Tomlinson (2001) states, “In fact, assessment is most useful when it comes at the outset of a unit or along the way in the unit. At those points assessment invites us to adjust our teaching based on current information (p.20).” I tend to give short quizzes that cover the topics I am trying to teach as well as using data provided by the school district I work at. I like to use NWEA Maps data and Skills Navigator. I prefer the skills navigator because it allows me to set up the specific skills I am looking to assess and I can reassess after the unit using skills navigator. Most of my pre assessment methods are in the form of a test. I do think I need to get better at making authentic assessments. This is something I plan to learn how to do as I am taking this class. Another plan of action I would like to do take part in is assess more frequently throughout a unit so I can use ti to guide my teaching.
Although the assessment data is helpful in designing the content that will be taught there is one vital element that has to be in place in order for learning to happen which is a healthy student/teacher relationship. According to McCarthy (2015), “The core of DI is the relationship between teacher and students.” I could not agree more with this statement, because without a relationship with my students I won’t be able to reach my targeted goals outlined in the pre-assessment data. Therefore, I spend time developing a relationship. I try to foster relationships but letting students know I genuinely care, by greeting them, creating an environment in which all students are respected, dimming the lights, playing music, offering student choice. Tomlinson identifies a key characteristic of an effective learning environment as one is which, “everyone feels welcomed and contributes to everyone else feeling welcomed (p.21).” My hope is that students will see that I value them and their education and in turn they will be ready to engage in the activities I have planned for them.
One way in particular that helps me to tremendously pull of DI is by using technology in my classroom to meet the vast range of my students’ needs. I’m not sure I could pull it off without technology. White (2017) also uses technology as one of her key components for pulling off differentiation. Technology allows me to quickly assess and provide leveled choices to all my students. I like to use IXL in both language arts and math to quickly assess my students needs as well as providing them with choices at their levels. IXL has a wide range of skills that are leveled. I leave it up to my students to choose a level that they are comfortable with until I have a chance to decide if they need to move up or down a level. Another thing I really like is the immediate feedback it gives my students. I also prefer to use online worksheets that immediately lets the students know if they are on task. My idea to increase student learning through the use of technology is supported by McCarthy’s (2015) claim that technology tools greatly aid in helping students reach their higher potential in which he provides a list of 50+ media tools. It is my goal as I aim to be a teacher who practices DI to always include technology in that it provides students opportunities to in a vast array of ways.
Because all students do not learn at the same rate or are ready for the same content in a DI classroom fairness has to be redefined. According to Tomlinson (2001) a new type of fairness is required in a DI classroom which allows the student to get what he/she needs in order to grow to their fullest potential at the moment. To do this Tomlinson (2001) further points out we need to scaffold our learning approach so that students can learn and succeed with challenging work. Tomlinson (2001) provides an array of strategies to meet this challenge. Some of my favorite and more used approaches are: less is more, directions with more structure, reteaching, teaching through multiple modes, manipulatives when needed, study guide, and organizers. It is important to note that what works for one student, is not always best for another. This is why differentiated instruction, which is not always equal, is the new fair. In other words, we need to be flexible. Tomlinson (2001) states, “We need to plan with flexible grouping in mind (p.26).” In my classroom I always want to keep the notion in mind that nothing is static and with continuous assessment I will find that regrouping and re-teachings will be needed.
Sometimes, I find it all too easy to think that DI is way too overwhelming, but then I remember that research shows it is what’s best for students and that I can do it. I have to be flexible and willing to take the time to learn my students needs, create a relationship and provide an array of learning options to my learners. According to McCarthy (2015), “When considering your students’ needs, reach even higher in your practice–that extra strength is inside us all and students will benefit,” It is my goal to step back, reflect on my students’ needs and do my best to make sure they are reaching their maximum potential by providing DI.
Bubbl (n.d.). Mind Mapping. Retreived from https://bubbl.us/034753596794715214.
Educational Publishers (2010). Methods of Differentiation in the Classroom. Retrieved from http://www.bbcactive.com/BBCActiveIdeasandResources/MethodsofDifferentiationintheClassroom.aspx
McCarthy, J. (2015). 3 Ways to Plan for Diverse Learners: What Teachers Do. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/differentiated-instruction-ways-to-plan-john-mccarthy.
Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-ability Classrooms. Alexandria, Va: Assoc. for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
White, J. (2017) 4 Proven Strategies for Differentiating Instruction. Retrieved from https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/4-proven-strategies-differentiating-instruction/