Monday, October 17, 2011

My Perspective on Differentiated Instruction

dioramaIn Why I Don’t Like Differentiated Instruction from Education On The Plate by Deven Black, he states

“Instruction focuses on what the teacher provides or what the teacher tells the student and differentiation merely postulates that teachers need to provide a variety of materials and tell in a variety of ways.”

At first when I read this post, I disagree with it because I think differentiated instruction is vital to a student’s success. Then when I read the statement I mentioned above, I realized that the success actually depends on the teacher’s perspective on differentiated instruction. According to this post, differentiated instruction just means giving different materials and teaching differently. If this is how a teacher perceives differentiated instruction, then I wouldn’t like it either, not as a teacher and definitely not as a student.

I believe that differentiated instruction deals more with how the student learns and what works best to achieve the objectives. Instruction is focused more on the different student rather than different materials and teaching styles. It also should include the students’ learning styles or it just won’t work.

If a student is an auditory learner, by all means, I would give oral instruction but also back it up with visual instruction. Just because a student is strong in one area, doesn’t mean I should limit my instruction to one area. By teaching both ways, I can reach more students. I believe that it doesn’t matter what type of learner they are if I can’t show them how relevant the lesson is to their own lives. Sure, to make learning interesting, I use a variety of tools, and activities because if it gets boring for me, it obviously will put students into a snooze!

Teaching new skills should involve different materials and teaching styles but should also include the student’s learning styles. If a student learns best by using his hands, then I need to find a way for this student to learn by using his hands. When I was teaching about the battles of the Revolutionary War, I let some students make a diorama of the specific battle. They used small soldiers and created the scene on their own. This helped understanding in a much better way than just reading about it in the textbook. My auditory learners researched about the conditions that soldiers had to exist in and did audio interviews with “soldiers” as if they were reporters during that time period. There are so many ways to teach lessons and encourage the student’s strengths if I can think outside the box. Instead of teaching the way I was taught, I need to teach in ways that I wish I was taught.

In the same respect, I need to see how students can show me that they can master a skill or achieve an objective in order to properly assess the learning. Assessment should not be a “one size fits all” activity. Before a lesson occurs, I need to decide the ways that I can evaluate and measure achievement. The best way for me has been to allow the students to create something new with their knowledge that they learned. This allows the student to be creative and also diminishes the temptation for some to cheat. Whenever we start a new lesson, I tell the students how they will be assessed. I share with them 5 possible projects for them to do at the end. This allows them to be thinking about it as they go through the learning. Their final creation from their learning can be part of their assessment that they turn in. Critiquing other projects using a rubric I created, can also be part of their assessment because it makes them look at the other student’s projects and use their knowledge learned in order to complete the rubric.

Sometimes I will even allow students to give input into the assessment. Over the years, I have developed a list of projects and pull from this list for different lessons. Students are allowed to pick 1 out of 5 choices for their assessment. If they have a suggestion that is not on the list, they are allowed to submit a proposal. They need to tell me what they want to do and how it will show me that they have mastered the objective. Sometimes the students come up with great ideas and by allowing their input, they feel they have some control over their learning and tend to be more engaged in the lesson.

It ends up being a win-win situation for everyone. The teacher has a successful lesson and the students are successful in achieving a goal and learning something that is relevant to their future.

How do you feel about differentiated instruction? What is your perspective?

Posted on the Successful Teaching Blog by loonyhiker (successfulteaching at gmail dot com).

Image: 'the redcoats were bastards'


Deven Black (@devenkblack) said...

I don't disagree with anything you said in your response to my post as you might see from one of my other posts:

loonyhiker said...

@Devenblack Thanks for your response and the link to your other post. I think it worked for you because you had the right perspective and belief about how differentiated instruction should work. Unfortunately there are some that think it means what you stated - just teach differently and then wonder why it doesn't work.

Alex | Perfecting Dad said...

We have a child in grade 2 and we really insist on differentiated instruction. I can't imagine any teacher who cares doing anything else, even if by instinct, especially at the lower grades.

Still, we have to develop the plan with the teacher ourselves. Over a month in to school and our child has actually regressed instead of improved.

loonyhiker said...

@Alex I love when parents come in with suggestions that might help improve the plan. I feel that parents know their child better than I do so they might know more of what works and what doesn't. This saves a lot of trial and error time in finding out what works. By involving the parents in the plan, I feel that there is more of a team effort. But I do ask that the suggestions be realistic and ask for examples of how they work at home. I hope things improve for your child.