The complex student populations sitting in our classrooms today create even a need for more differentiated instruction. Growing second language learners, expanded identification of students with learning needs, experiential gap between students from affluent and low-income social economic backgrounds, and bright or advanced students are all in the same classroom. DI provides a specific model that carefully examines all classroom elements.
Not all students are alike. Based on this knowledge, differentiated instruction applies an approach to teaching and learning that gives students multiple options for taking in information and making sense of ideas. To differentiate instruction is to recognize students' varying background knowledge, readiness, language, preferences in learning and interests; and to react responsively. The goal is to maximize each student's growth and individual success by meeting each student where he or she is and assisting in the learning process.
Good differentiation, like all good teaching, it is very complex. With anything complex, we learn it a layer at a time. “Becoming an expert at differentiation is a career-long goal. One step at a time, you can get there” (Laureate, 2009). That being said, I will give myself a little slack if the differentiation in my classroom is not yet where I would like it to be. There are a few key concepts to keep in mind as I continue my goal to increase DI strategies in my classroom. Proactive DI is to first check to see where students are relative to goals before you plan a lesson, and then plan multiple pathways in response to students. DI is not synonymous with different. The key principal of DI is giving students different options with the same important learning goals.
One of the first steps toward planning and implementing instruction for diverse learners is to really know your students. My colleagues have assembled a valuable collection of online resources available to aid teachers in determining their students’ interests, learning styles, intelligence preferences, and learning profiles in our Differentiation Station social network. Selecting appropriate instruments to use with my students will enable me to develop learning goals and objectives to meet each student where they are and provide activities and supports to ensure the success of all learners. A learning profile is an instrument created to organize several categories that influence student learning (Tomlinson, 2009). In the beginning of the year, students will complete the Differentiated Instruction Learner Profile, which combines several components useful for supporting student learning: readiness, interests, learning preferences, and intelligence preferences. Additionally, students will answer the Getting To Know You Interest Interview for gender, family and culture background information.
Enriched, active participation stimulates and enhances the learning process and different students are engaged by different approaches. Again, I will turn to the resources my colleagues have shared in our Differentiation Station social network to quickly locate new and exciting methods of engagement and better reach all students. Digital media increases understanding by giving students opportunity to work, experiment, investigate and even play with new concepts. With digital media students grasp material, return to it, share it with others, recall information and explain their ideas.
Giving students multiple ways to show their mastery of a subject increases the chances of active learning and retention of new knowledge. It also provides a more accurate assessment of their performance as well as the need for any adjustments to instructional strategies. I use digital technology to vary the level of challenge, build in supportive scaffolds and provide choices for optimal engagement. I will also continue to seek out avenues to take learning beyond the walls of our classroom and into the real world.
“The integration of a variety of technologies into the classroom can provide learners with unique opportunities to help meet their diverse needs. Technology can be an empowering tool. For it to be empowering, however, teachers must be deliberate and thoughtful in how it is integrated and utilized in the classroom” (Bray, Brown, & Green, 2004, p.76).
Bray, M., Brown, A., & Green, T. (2004). Technology and the diverse learner: A guide to classroom practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2009). Reaching and engaging all learners through technology. What is Differentiated Instruction? Baltimore: Author.
Tomlinson, C. (2009). Learning profiles and achievement. School Administrator. 66(2), 28–33. Retrieved from Education Research Complete database.