differentiation – to recognize students varying background knowledge, readiness, language, preferences in learning, interests, and to react responsively. Differentiated instruction is a process to approach teaching and learning for students of differing abilities in the same class. The intent of differentiating instruction 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. (CAST.org)
Differentiation is no longer considered a strategy, but rather a principle of effective teaching. One great resource I have found for new ideas about differentiation is the Internet. As we move into a new age of technology, tools such as YouTube and other video sites serve as great wealths of information. Anyone can upload videos to the majority of these sites, and they are a great way for teachers to share ideas and teaching methods. Let’s be honest, few teachers have adequate time to pour over lengthy write-ups of lesson ideas, no matter how dedicated they are to effective differentation. By presenting these differentiation ideas in a video format, teachers can communicate their great ideas to one another in a fraction of the time…not to mention provide a visual of their students in action! This is this Classroom Instruction That Works video on differentiating instruction. Take a look!
Differentiated Instruction Video
As the teacher describes in the video, presentations and activities are used to prepare for more formal assessments at the end of the units. I liked the idea of having small groups answer a question in the form of a performance or skit, like the students who explained how pioneers got their mail. Each group was responsible for a different “big idea” that would be on their unit test. Differentiation also occured (prior to the video) when the teacher assigned groups and topics to research and enact. The teacher also used supplemental questioning to make sure the students had a complete understanding of the facts. She challenged her students based on their individual level, but all students were still engaged in the same type of activity. As a teacher, i do not like singleing one or two “high” or “low” students out from the group to complete completely diferent tasks. I have found that students perform better and feel more included in the classroom when everyone is working together toward the same goal. The format in the video, I believe, will help all students to know and remember the information rather than just memorizing it for the test. Such activities allow students who may learn better with visuals or audio-stimulation to more effectively “soak in” the knowledge. Of course, this format does require more time and effort from the teacher to guide learning, but it engages students in authentic learning activities.
I wish we did more of this creative, interactive learning in my placement classroom. My students are so creative, and I think they would really benefit from a skit or a performance-type of activity. I haven’t seen many other students in the schools doing this type of activity, but perhaps that is because I have been in the younger grades. Sometimes it seems like the older elementary grades are more ready to do this type of activity.
There are numerous support systems available to students at my placement school.
I am in an ESL cluster classroom, which means there are significantly more ESL students in my class than in the other rooms. My CT and I are expected to work closely with the ESL specialist to tailor lessons and instruction to meet these students’ needs. The specialist usually pulls 5-6 students out at a time to work with them on reading and vocabulary skills. She also takes students individually to work with them on a more personal level when necessary. It is helpful when she assists my CT with completing benchmarks and other standardized assessments. One of our ESL students is very new to English. The ESL specialist provided a children’s Spanish-English dictionary and word/vocabulary flash cards for him to use in the class. She also advised us to put the students’ name at the top of his desk in big letters so that he would be constantly reminded of how to spell and write it correctly. I personally don’t think the communication between the ESL specialist and my CT is adequate. Although both are extremely busy, I think it would be more beneficial for the students if these teachers collaborated more to discuss how to best suit their needs. Now I do realize that I am only observing the class one day a week, so maybe they conference when I am not there to see it. Hmmm…I’ll to ask my CT about this tomorrow!
The reading specialist is also very involved in our classroom. She works with Kindergarten through second grade, and there is another specialist who works with the third through fifth graders. We have quite a few students in our classroom who are performing on a very low reading level, and her job is to bring them up to grade level as soon as possible. She also pulls children out during the day to work either individually or in small groups with them on their decoding, fluency, accuracy, and comprehension. The reading specialist helps to complete benchmark and other standardized assessments like the ESL specialist does. She regularly comes into the classroom to speak with my CT about how students are progressing in their literacy, although sometimes it breaks into instructional time! The reading specialist and my CT also have conferences with parents about individual students’ strengths and difficulties in reading.
I have also spoken with our school counselor about her role in the school. She and I are actually from the same hometown! The school counselor provides emotional support and guidance to all of the students in the school. She goes to all the classrooms at various times during the month to speak about character traits and the importance of being a good citizen in the school and in the community. She is also available for students who need to talk to someone about their feelings, emotions, or things that are going on at home. If students have behavioral problems, they often conference with the school counselor to try to figure things out. She is very approachable and students feel comfortable talking to her. I find it very interesting to talk with her because I think I would like to be a school counselor myself one day!
I have to admit that the “Educating Peter” video caught me quite off-guard. Having never had a child with downs syndrome in one of my own classrooms before, I didn’t know what to expect. At first I was a little surprised at how the teacher allowed Peter to do pretty much what he wanted in the classroom. But when he began hitting students and jumping on them, I was horrified. I didn’t understand how the teacher could stay back and allow the students to handle the situation themselves. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to. It concerned me that occasionally the students’ safety was in danger in the classroom with Peter. His violence, although seemingly harmless, created an unsafe atmosphere for the students. I think the teacher should have stepped in more in the situations when things got more physical. By the end of the documentary, however, I realized that the experience had actually been extremely beneficial for all of the students in the classroom, not just Peter. They had learned how to solve problems with each other and how to understand someone who was very different from them. I do agree that the compassion the students gained was worth the first few months of chaos in the classroom.
As a class, we have been discussing why many educators feel that children with special needs should be included in the classroom. Of course I agree that these students deserve the same experience and educational opportunities as all other children, but my concern lies with the teachers, not necessarily the students. The teacher in the documentary was amazing. She managed to keep her wits about her even when the classroom was out of control. But I know that not all teachers would have been able to handle the school year in the same way. If a student with special needs is placed in a classroom with a teacher who cannot appropriately or constructively educate him or her, that student will not benefit from the inclusive classroom education. Whereas a student with special needs who is placed with an experienced, specialized classroom teacher will benefit much more from her strategies and approaches to his or her education.
It may seem like a confusing approach to the situation, but I am basically saying that YES, students with special needs should be included in the classroom, but the teachers in those classrooms should be adequately experienced and prepared to teach to their needs.
I am glad we had the opportunity to watch “Educating Peter” because I think it refreshed my mind and reminded me of why I want to be a teacher.