As educators, we’re all in search of that “eureka moment” - that moment when a student fully grasps a new concept for the first time. These moments of discovery can change a student’s life forever. These moments are what we live for as educators. What if there was a way to maximize these eureka moments - to reach every student, and speak their learning language so they could understand new material and grasp new concepts faster and more fully?
Benefits of Differentiated Instruction
This is the promise that differentiated instruction offers. Differentiated instruction makes lessons relevant to every student - regardless of learning style, educational background, language or ability. It helps educators make the most out of their curriculum. It also helps students make the most out of their education.
As a teacher, getting through to every student while meeting the demands of state testing can be a tall order - especially when you’re teaching large classes. To fully understand the challenge at hand, let’s imagine it’s the beginning of a new year, and you’re a teacher just meeting your class for the first time.
You’re feeling positive. Your room is amazing with some new “flexible seating” options, new baskets and labels are all color-coordinated. You are so ready for the new year! State testing? Forget about it. With the new ideas you have and your pre-planned lessons you spent hours on this summer, you know your kids will be ready. You walk to the office to pick up your class list, so excited and pumped for the new year -- then you read your class list. Good feeling - gone.
What Differentiation Looks Like in the Classroom
You have a class of 32 students. One student is an English Language Learner (ELL) from France. First year in the country, and does not speak any English. At all. Six students are labeled SPED. Seven students are “at-risk”, and after reading some of their heartbreaking files, you learn that three of them have extreme aggression issues. Four are gifted and talented students, and one is a Good-Will-Hunting style math genius. The remainder of the class is average.
Immediately, you start thinking about all of that work you did during the summer. That novel project? Over half of your students are not on grade level. How will they complete that project? You do not know any French. How will you possibly help your French student? You do not have a classroom aide, so how will you give different assessments, with different accommodations, for your SPED students? Before succumbing to defeat, you decide to do your best and incorporate some differentiated learning techniques and classroom tools to manage the situation. You discover a couple of things.
First, you do some reading on “grouping.” Grouping your students according to their learning level is a great teaching practice. It allows you to focus and zero-in on certain skills and objectives according to student need. It also allows students to work collaboratively and teach each other — which according to studies, plays a vital role in learning. Peer learning, especially in small collaborative groups, nurtures and fosters the development of self-directed learning skills (laying the foundation for life-long continuing self-education), critical thinking and problem-solving skills, communication, interpersonal and teamwork skills, peer assessment and critical reflection. Grouping is also interactive, engages students and builds social skills.
Ways to Differentiate Learning Using Technology
Inspired by your findings, you now do a deep dive into technology for differentiated learning and discover there are tools available to help you. Google Classroom allows teachers the ability to assign differentiated assignments to specific kids. For example, if a student has an accommodation of limited answer choices on multiple choice quizzes or tests, a teacher can assign the modified quiz via Classroom. The student then opens the quiz just like every other student in class.
Not only with assessments, but Google Classroom also allows you to CREATE groups within your class. If you have a project to assign, and you would like your advanced students in a group together, when they enter your Google Classroom and click on the project, they are “auto-magically” assigned the correct project based on their level. It is discreet. Everyone is accessing the work the same way, and there is no need to single out any student. You can also utilize the messaging features in Google Classroom, or programs like GoGuardian, to provide guidance and assistance as needed without drawing attention to students. Using these messaging features, you can give all students a voice. Especially the ones who are too shy to speak out in class.
You’re feeling excited and inspired again. There are more teaching tools at your disposal than you realized — and this is just the tip of the iceberg. With differentiated assessment tools that analyze students’ individuals skill-sets, you can hone in further on the needs of each of your students in a way that is subtle, efficient and impactful.
Read more tips and pointers for differentiated instruction in Julie’s new e-book: “Differentiated Instruction: Making learning relevant for every student”
The above journey is one many educators go through — one we at GoGuardian are here to help with. We want to give you the tools to manage your classrooms better and smarter - and with smart technology and differentiated learning techniques, you can make the unmanageable manageable — and maybe even create more of those golden, eureka moments in your classroom.