Brain
research confirms what experienced teachers have always known:
.
Consequently,
it necessarily follows that although essential curricula goals may be
similar for all students, methodologies employed in a classroom must be
varied to suit to the individual needs of all children: ie. learning must
be differentiated to be effective.
Differentiating
instruction means creating multiple paths so that students of different
abilities, interest or learning needs experience equally appropriate ways
to absorb, use, develop and present concepts as a part of the daily
learning process. It allows students to take greater responsibility and
ownership for their own learning, and provides opportunities for peer
teaching and cooperative learning.
Differentiating
is not new, the concept has been around for at least 2 decades for gifted
and talented students. (Also
see Instructional
strategies for G&T). However, it is now recognized to be an important
tool for engaging students and addressing the individual needs of all
students. Differentiating instruction is also an essential tool for
integrating technology into classroom activities. The most difficult and
least effective way to integrate technology is to consistently take all
students in to the computer lab to work on the same activities at the same
time, and this may well be true for many other subjects. This is not to
say that some activities are not appropriate for all students at some
times. In the interest of expediency, it is sometimes most appropriate to
conduct some whole group instruction. What is important is to recognize
that this is just one of many strategies and it is most effective when used
at the appropriate time for common needs such as the introduction to a new
learning unit.
There
are generally several students in any classroom who are working below or
above grade level and these levels of readiness will vary between
different subjects in school. It is important to offer students learning
tasks that are appropriate to their learning needs rather than just to the
grade and subject being taught. This means providing 3 or 4 different
options for students in any given class (not 35 different options).
Readiness (ability), learning styles and interest vary between students
and even within an individual over time. In a differentiated classroom all
students have equally engaging learning tasks.
In
preparation for differentiating, the teacher diagnoses the difference in
readiness, interests and learning style of all students in the class,
using a variety of performance indicators.
For
the teacher who is beginning to differentiate learning in the classroom,
differentiation may begin by varying the content, processes or product for
each group in the class. As the teacher becomes more proficient using
these techniques, differentiation can occur at all 3 stages of the process
for some students. This is especially appropriate for the more able
students. The essential curricula concepts may be the same for all
students but the complexity of the content, learning activities and/or
products will vary so that all students are challenged and no students are
frustrated.
Students
with specific needs/weaknesses should be presented with learning
activities that offer opportunities for developing needed skills as well
as opportunities to display individual strengths. More advanced students
may work on activities with inherently higher level thinking requirements
and greater complexity.
Four
Ways to Differentiate Instruction:
Differentiation
can occur in the content, process, product or environment in the
classroom.
1.
Differentiating the Content/Topic
Content
can be described as the knowledge, skills and attitudes we want children
to learn. Differentiating content requires that students are pretested so
the teacher can identify the students who do not require direct
instruction. Students demonstrating understanding of the concept can skip
the instruction step and proceed to apply the concepts to the task of
solving a problem. This strategy is often referred to as compacting the
curriculum. Another way to differentiate content is simply to permit the
apt student to accelerate their rate of progress. They can work ahead
independently on some projects, i.e. they cover the content faster than
their peers.
2.
Differentiating the Process/Activities
Differentiating
the processes means varying learning activities or strategies to provide
appropriate methods for students to explore the concepts. It is important
to give students alternative paths to manipulate the ideas embedded within
the concept. For example students may use graphic
organizers, maps,
diagrams or charts to display their comprehension of concepts covered.
Varying the complexity of the graphic organizer can very effectively
facilitate differing levels of cognitive processing for students of
differing ability.
3.
Differentiating the Product
Differentiating
the product means varying the complexity of
the product
(http://www.rogertaylor.com/reference/ProductGrid.pdf) that students
create to demonstrate mastery of the concepts. Students working below
grade level may have reduced performance expectations, while students
above grade level may be asked to produce work that requires more complex
or more advanced thinking. There are many sources of alternative product
ideas available to teachers. However sometimes it is motivating for
students to be offered choice of
product.
4.
Diffferentiating By Manipulating The Environment or Through Accommodating
Individual Learning Styles
There
has been a great deal of work on learning
styles over the last 2 decades. Dunn
and Dunn (http://www.learningstyles.net/)
focused on manipulating the school environment at about the
same time as Joseph
Renzulli recommended varying teaching strategies. Howard
Gardner identified individual talents or aptitudes in his Multiple
Intelligences theories. Based on the works of Jung, the MyersBriggs
Type Indicator (http://partners.mce.be/wbt/mbti/personal.htm)
and Kersley's
Temperament Sorter focused on understanding how people's personality
affects the way they interact personally, and how this affects the way
individuals respond to each other within the learning environment. The work of
David
Kolb and Anthony Gregorc's Type Delineator follows a similar but more
simplified approach.
Even
though these approaches look at learning
styles in vastly different ways they all have merit for some
children. However, an amalgamation or blending of these
concepts is probably more effective than any one approach. The Dunn
and Dunn approach would be most effectively applied in a building designed
to accommodate environmental changes. Many classrooms offer limited
opportunities to change the lighting or sound levels, to eliminate visual
distracters, or to provide a more casual seating arrangement for students.
Varying teaching strategies makes sure that students will occasionally
learn in a manner compatible with their own learning preference but also
expands their repertoire of alternative learning strategies in turn. The
Multiple Intelligences Theory is very helpful for helping teachers
recognize that students have differing aptitude in different subject
areas, but it still requires the application of the kinds of learning strategies
listed here to be effective. The MBTI and Gregorc's Style
Delineator help teachers recognize how personality differences can either
enhance or distract from communication between individuals.
The most significant issue relating to
learning styles is the paradigm
shift in education in recent years. This paradigm shift is illustrated
in the way that curriculum is presently defined in the most recent
programs of studies. Curriculum is no longer defined in terms of
what a teacher will teach but rather in terms of what a student will be able to
demonstrate. If we are to be responsible for what a child learns then it
is essential that we understand what (s)he knew at the beginning and how
to move him/her forward from that point in a successful manner. This means
we need to understanding how each student learns best.
It also means that we need to build on what they already know.
Within
these four ways for differentiating there are embedded many learning
strategies which are used in conjunction with each other.
