Reflection - Differentiated Instruction and its Application in the Classroom
I will address the topic of differentiated instruction, which we saw in class, we have read about due to assignments, we have learned through examples and material in class and through the knowledge acquired on Learning Disabilities, and we have practiced through experience to a certain degree; particularly I will focus on the three principles of effective teaching and learning, which state that intelligence is variable, that the brain hungers for meaning, and that humans learn best with moderate challenge.
First, here is a summary of the topic, to later understand the exercise that follows. Carol Ann Tomlinson (1999) defined what is a differentiated classroom, the following are the main ideas: teachers have to take into account the students they have, academic and personal background, way of learning, among others; teachers must use different ways of teaching, taking into account different interests of the students, they should use varied degrees of complexity; in a differentiated classroom a student competes against himself and this leads to a greater growth and development; success comes from hard work; and in differentiated classrooms teachers use time flexibly, become partners with the students, and shape the environment that fits the learner. Other important characteristics of a differentiated classroom is that it takes into account the different rates in which the students learn, also their different talents and interests, and that teachers are more in touch with students, attending to their similarities and differences.
Within the differentiated instruction topic, Carol Ann Tomlinson (1999) lists and explain three principles of effective teaching and learning, which are the following: (i) Intelligence is variable, which means we think, learn and create in different ways; development of our potential has to do with our particular intelligences and what and how we learn (for this topic we can also use the Howard Garner theory of multiple intelligences); and states that providing rich learning experiences can amplify intelligence, because intelligence is not fixed, is fluid. (ii) The brain hungers for meaning, which means the brain seeks for meaningful patterns and is more efficient with information organized around categories and ideas that increase meaningfulness, it also seeks to connect parts to wholes, something new to something that has been already understood, and it responds more effectively and efficiently to something that: carries deep and personal meaning, is life-shaping, is relevant, and that taps into emotions. Also, that teachers must create opportunities where students link the new with the old, which means teachers must identify special concepts, principles and skills of their subjects, must become experts on the learning need of their students, and must, using this information, provide differentiated opportunities by connecting what the students know with the essentials of what they are trying to learn. (iii) Humans learn best with moderate challenge, which means the assignments should not be too difficult or too easy, and they are appropriate when they ask learners to travel into the unknown taking into account they have enough background knowledge to begin with and they will have support in this journey; it also states that challenges must grow as students grow in their learning.
The above is better understood with an example, which I will provide; but before I will share how this information has impacted my practice as a teacher. The topic of differentiated instruction has given me a tool that will help me put into practice what I think about education. I believe that life is a self-discovery process, which is travelled by children and adolescents through the educational process, and through others, being the latter what they learn at home with their family, also on the neighborhood with friends and girlfriends/boyfriends, among others. In the educational process, along with what they learn at home, through the knowledge and wisdom provided, children and adolescents will carry on their self-discovery process, if they decide to, through three cornerstones of this process, self-love (which includes self-esteem), self-knowledge (that is different to self-discovery), and self-respect. Differentiated instruction is the perfect tool to achieve this because it is about getting to know your students, through their strengths and what they need to improve, also through their talents and interests. With all these information you can support each student in their own process by teaching all the class the same topics, which are important for them to know, and then differentiating and teaching them what will best help them in their process; you can support them in knowledge, with topics that have to do with the subject, or in wisdom, so they get to know themselves through what they like and what they don’t, through what they excel in and what costs them more, thus helping them define who they really are, not the social conception of who they should be.
All of the above can be accomplished through differentiated instruction, because it provides the opportunity to interact, for you as a teacher, with the students in a different way that in a typical classroom, because it will lead to interaction with each student separately, with the class as a whole, and with students working in groups; it also provides for the students different types of interactions with the teacher and peers. It will also help you as a teacher with the detection of learning disabilities, from the role of the teacher; and it will also help you find the appropriate strategies and accommodations that could support the students with learning disabilities, and will support other students, for example with reference to prevention, when applying those strategies. Also, with learning disabilities, through the self-discovery process, they will work on concepts that are very important as: self-advocacy, self-monitoring and self-regulation; and differentiated instruction will give teachers the tools to transmit to the students, through the subject and how they teach, what the teacher has learned about who the student is, supporting the student’s personal process of self-discovery in the classroom, which they will then generalize to other environments. Another important goal of observation through differentiated instruction is that it helps promoting empathy, not only by the teacher who knows the students, but by the students through their own process of getting to know themselves, and also through watching and helping their peers in their corresponding processes, something that can be accomplished with this tool.
Now, I will land the concepts given above for a better understanding of the topic. The three principles of effective teaching and learning explained above are the way in which I, as a teacher, can achieve what was proposed before, which is helping each student in their self-discovery process. Accepting that intelligence is variable has to do with the acceptance of the fact that each student is different from the other; what they learn, even if it is the same, will impact their lives very differently, if we take this into account and put it into practice, for example with the sensory pause idea given in class, we can help them develop their potential. This is why providing general knowledge, and then differentiating it, could be a great way to develop many types of intelligences in the students; we will see this in the example. Understanding that the brain hungers for meaning will help teachers in the compartmentalization process of the information, which along with what we talked above on this topic, the making sense of ideas and info, taping to feeling and experiences, among others, will give tools that will enrich the educational process in the classroom, in this case my classroom. Finally the understanding that humans learn best with moderate challenge will help the teacher through differentiation, to teach all the students, advanced students and struggling learners.
The following is my action plan, which I will show through an example, of how my class will be with differentiated instruction. The subject is social studies in 9th grade, the topic World War II. Take into account we have already learned about what is history, through two lessons, the first was the importance of personal decision making in the conformation of history, and the second one through the importance of the personal decision making process in the conformation of personal and world’s history. The first class is a documentary on the topic, the second class will begin with an exposition by the teacher (me) to contextualize students about WWII, of which they have an idea due to the homework assignment given the last class, which was a reading assignment, and the documentary. The third class of this topic, which will involve the differentiated instruction strategies, will begin with information of how the time of the class will be divided, then (as every other class) with a ritual where I get to know my students through different reflections that they individually answer sharing with the whole class (through different means, orally, through a drawing, mimic, or others), this one is that they have to mimic shortly their process of getting to school today, which will give me information about them and their priorities, and maybe additional information on their day-to-day lives. Then I will present different options regarding general topics that will help them understand better WWII, and the students will have to choose among the topics, it will be work in groups (there could be exceptions depending on the topic), the students can propose a topic, which can be accepted by me, depending on its pertinence. The proposed general topics are: causes that led to WWII, music and WWII, sports and WWII, art and WWII, compare between the current situation in Europe (in politics, economics, socially, among others) and the situation during WWII, share stories of grandparents or others who lived during WWII or the near post-war and how they affected them (individual work, group work if they compare the story with what was occurring in Colombia at the time), consequences of WWII in Europe and the rest of the World, medicine and WWII, anthropology and WWII, human psychology behind WWII, biology and WWII, nature and WWII. After choosing the topics, I may also, if there isn’t a decision made, assign the topics based on my knowledge of the students (strengths, interests and what they have to improve). Each general topic has to be explained in detail during a presentation by each group, I will guide them with each topic chosen so they can know clearly what to do, and they will also have to do an activity to illustrate their topic to the classroom, for example in the general topic music and WWII, music could be played to the class so they can feel, through the auditory sense, what WWII was like. After choosing the topics and making sure they understand the assignment, there will be a sensory break, which is related to the topic, students will have the opportunity to smell and taste different types of food that were fashionable, in Colombia, on the time WWII occurred, this will also help students understand the importance of framing historical events within a time period. The rest of the class will be, in the groups made, guidance by the teacher to help them channel their project.
The above example was one way of showing how we can use differentiated instruction to teach a topic, and through the process, help students advance in their self-discovery process, using the three principles of effective teaching and learning. This will help students learn the topic, what is it useful for, and seeing it through a different perspective; in this case social studies has a direct relation with other disciplines too (medicine, music, art, sports, psychology, economics, political sciences, biology, among others), they all are in a way connected, part of a whole, some more closely but in general they all are interconnected. It will also help students connect with the topic and see what it is useful for, in this case social studies will help students know about the importance of decisions and the decision making process, it will also help them understand their own life through processes (past-present-future), it will teach them causes and consequences, and many other things. In this example knowledge and wisdom work together to form the students, academically and in values, which will definitely reshape this world for good, and it’s definitely accurate also to, along with strategies, accommodations and others, to support students with learning disabilities.
Tomlinson, C. (1999). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.