As educators it is clear to us that no two students learn the same way. We know that each student comes in to the classroom with different abilities. They each have their own baggage; background knowledge, language proficiency, learning style, readiness to learn and so on. So how can we make sure that all of our students are learning the same material?
The simple answer is, differentiate the instruction. Those of us that have tried realize that this is much easier said than done. In order to differentiate instruction teachers must first identify specific abilities of each individual student. Each student’s ability to make connections between the curriculum and their own interests is the key to their ability to learn something new. Just like exercise, students need to be pushed just beyond where they can work without assistance. This point of independence is different for students who are below grade level and those who are gifted.
It is common for teachers to teach to the middle with all the students following one path of instruction but this is no longer what is considered best practice. Now we want to personalize the education experience so that the students can make the appropriate connections and learn. This doesn’t mean watering down the lesson, nor does it mean to frustrate students that struggle, it also doesn’t mean that each student needs a separate lesson plan. So what does it mean?
First, the teacher must get to know each student. They can identify learning style by administering learning style inventory such as this one http://www.odessa.edu/dept/govt/dille/brian/courses/1100orientation/learningstyleinventory_survey.pdf or https://www.puc.edu/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/13395/Learning-Styles-Inventory.pdf Teachers can also quantify the levels that students are working in each subject area via standardized test scores or other records in the student file.
Once this has been done, it’s time to turn back toward the curriculum itself. Understand the goals and objectives first. Define what the students should be able to do. This should always be the first step of any lesson planning session. We often refer to this process as Backwards by Design. Choose which concepts should be taught at different degrees of complexity and brainstorm. The brainstorming process should be done with other teachers. When this occurs, cross curricular planning for unit projects becomes easier.
The role of the teacher must be redefined now. The methods of delivering the lesson become more focused. Auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners can be targeted. The time and space of the classroom must be designed around the differentiation since not all students are working on the same assignment as the same time. There should be room for individual and group work to continue at the same time while all materials are available.
Now that the lesson has been differentiated, so must the assessment. Many schools attempt to differentiate the lesson and forget about the assessments. Alternative assessments need to be found and we need to learn from them. Assessments become part of the learning experience and should now be formative rather than summative.
The idea behind Readorium programming is to make this differentiation easy for the teacher. We also work to keep the reading lesson cross curricular by connecting science to the reading lesson. The continual assessment throughout the Readorium program is formative since the program adapts to the student continuously.
So much more can be said about differentiation. So much more needs to be said about Backwards Planning, Cross Curricular Projects and Formative Assessments. Be on the look-out for information on these topics throughout the year!