Technology has been integrated into 21st century classrooms to promote learning among students. Technology has enabled and empowered teachers to take a more individualized approach to teaching. With technology, students are able to work at their own pace, which lets teachers assist the students who struggle with certain concepts. Differentiation, however, is not individualized instruction; it is a student-focused way of thinking about teaching and learning.
The Glossary of Education Reform defined differentiation as
“a wide variety of teaching techniques and lesson adaptations that educators use to instruct a diverse group of students, with diverse learning needs, in the same course, classroom, or learning environment.”
Though students might use different media to explore and learn the same concepts and skills, the learning goal should be the same for all students, even as it changes them individually.
Differentiation is designed to address learning and affective needs that all students have. This means that classrooms that incorporate differentiated instruction are filled with students who: have different needs, come from different educational backgrounds, and who have different attention spans and interests, different language abilities and cultural backgrounds.
Teachers are able to differentiate content (knowledge and skills students need to master); process (activities students use to master the content); and product (a method students use to demonstrate learning); according to student readiness (student knowledge and skill level regarding given content); interests (topics, skills, or activities that pique a student’s curiosity or inspire him/her); and learning profile (a student’s preferred method of learning new information or skills [e.g., visually, hands-on, through deductive means] and to environmental factors that influence a student’s learning [e.g., small group, bright lights, no distractions]). In order to achieve this, teachers must know their students.
Determining student readiness can occur in many ways, one being pre-testing students. Teachers can give students a test prior to the lesson plan in order to gain a better understanding of which students know the material, and which do not. This allows the teacher to spend more time with the struggling students, and allows the students who are already familiar with the content to keep practicing at their own pace.
In order to tailor lesson plans to students’ interests, teachers should give students options as to how they wish to learn the material. For example, students may struggle with retaining information from a textbook because it causes them to see, decode and comprehend written text, and process visual information. Instead, students could be given an alternative, such as gaining knowledge from digital text. Digital text can be manipulated for easier visual access or can be converted into speech.
A student’s learning profile is very critical part to their education. Students should have access to assistive technology, in moderation, such as phones, laptops, and calculators. An example of how this can be incorporated into a classroom is by using technology with linguistically diverse learners. There are various resources that can be of assistance to these types of students such as – online translation services, multilingual web resources, international newspapers and interactive maps, and English language world origins.
I believe that utilizing differentiated instruction inside of my future classroom will be very beneficial to my students. This type of education will make learning and teaching more simple and gratifying. 21st century learning and teaching is constantly changing, but with differentiated instruction, it is no longer up to the teacher to constantly be changing with it. Students are now able to control the way they learn, while still being able to fully comprehend the material.