Essential question: How do you make decisions about your own actions for students in a differentiated classroom? What is your criteria for intervention, and/or for letting learning happen?
What is the teacher’s role in a differentiated classroom? Differentiation is defined 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.” Differentiation works on 3 key aspects, which can be summed up as follows:
- Readiness to learn
- Learning needs
In my classroom, I get to know my students from the beginning of the year. After awhile, each unique learning style starts to become clearer. I also use formative and summative assessments. Formative assessments are when I monitor students learning and provide feedback to them. Summative assessment is when you evaluate the student at the end of a unit, for example a test, quiz, or a project.
In a differentiated classroom things can change all the time. You might be presenting a lesson and see some students are not understanding, so you try present it in another way, maybe with visual or auditory effects. I try to use visual, auditory and kinesthetic tools when I teach. I think back to when I was in school and what really stuck with me. One teacher took us outside to the dock to look and feel sea anemones, while at the same time teaching us marine biology. This was something that the teacher did to differentiate his classroom.
As Rick Wormeli (2006) writes, “If your teacher has ever rephrased a question; extended a deadline; provided a few extra examples in order for you to understand something; stood next to you to keep your focused on the lesson; regrouped the class according to student interest, readiness, or the way students learned; gave you a choice among assignments based on something she knew about you; or let you redo a test or project if at first you didn’t succeed, she differentiated instruction” (p.1). I have done all of these at one time or another to help students understand a lesson. I have also used the Think-Pair-Share, Strategy. According to Cathy Alan Simon (2015), “The Think-Pair-Share strategy is designed to differentiate instruction by providing students time and structure for thinking on a given topic, enabling them to formulate individual ideas and share these ideas with a peer.”
I look at the Content, Process and Product when I am determining if a student needs more intervention. John McCarthy tells us that content comprises “the knowledge, concepts, and skills that students need to learn based on the curriculum.” In his article “3 Ways to Plan for Diverse Learners: What Teachers Do,” McCarthy writes: “Process is how students make sense of the content. They need time to reflect and digest the learning activities before moving on to the next segment of a lesson. Processing helps students assess what they do and don’t understand. It’s also a formative assessment opportunity for teachers to monitor students’ progress. Content, process, and product are key elements in lesson design.” I let the student try first and if I see they need more help I will help them. If I see that a student is not getting the skills that I want them to learn or making sense of a lesson, then I will provide more intervention. I try to explain it in another way, have a TA work with the student, or use another strategy until I see that the student is able to process the information.
As explained on the BBC Active site, “Differentiation by dialogue is the most regularly used type of differentiation in the classroom. With this technique, the emphasis is on the role of the teacher, who must facilitate problem solving by identifying which students need detailed explanations in simple language and which students can engage in dialogue at a more sophisticated level (quoting Zarillo, 2010). Students should be assessed on an on-going basis so that teaching and learning is adjusted according to the learners’ needs. As teachers we need to adjust our lessons all the time. One lesson might go well with one class, but not go so well with another. It all depends on the group of students that you have in your classroom.
Zarillo (2010) writes that “Differentiation in the classroom is all about understanding that we are dealing with a group of diverse individuals and adapting our teaching to ensure that all of them have access to learn.” The work we teachers do in the classroom has to incorporate visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile methods. Kinesthetics means “bodily movement.” A kinesthetic activity would require students to move. Tactile means “touch.” Tactile activities are very important for our youngest students (Zarillo, 2010). I think all teachers try to use all the modalities when they are teaching. I know I try to. I figure if I present it in the most ways as possible then I am more likely to reach most of my students and then I can see which students don’t understand after I do that and help them more. For example, if I know of a student who is not a good reader I would let them listen to what we are reading. I also try to include a variety of different modalities when I give students projects. I really like Carolyn Coil’s Tic Tac Toe projects. I have used these types of projects a few times in my classroom. Some of the activities that I have included are to cook a recipe from your country for your family. Students and parents really like this one. I have included other activities like this one to appeal to the student’s and their learning style.
Differentiation is the best way for students to learn. We all know that one size does not fit all in a classroom. We need to meet the students where they are and help them cross over the bridge of learning. If we do that then we can be sure that the information that we are trying to teach them will not be forgotten. They will remember how you took the extra effort to help them learn this material another way and that will stick with them. In the end, it will be best for both the teacher and student because learning will be happening with both of you.
Carnegie Mellon University. (2015). Formative vs Summative Assessment – Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation. http://www.cmu.edu. Retrieved January 30, 2015, from http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/assessment /basics/formative-summative.html
McCarthy, J. (2014). 3 Ways to Plan for Diverse Learners: What Teachers
Do. Retrieved January 30, 2015, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/ differentiated-instruction-ways-to-plan-john-mccarthy
Methods of Differentiation in the Classroom. (2010). Retrieved January 30,
Simon, C. (2015). Using the Think-Pair-Share Technique. ReadWriteThink.
Retrieved January 30, 2015, from http://www.readwritethink.org/professional-development/strategy-guides/using-think-pair-share-30626.html
Wormeli, R. (2006). Fair isn’t always equal assessing & grading in the
differentiated classroom. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.
Zarillo, J. (2010). Differentiating Instruction for Children With Learning
Disabilities. Retrieved January 30, 2015, from http://www.education.com/reference/article/instruction-children-learning-disabilities/