Differentiated Instruction

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.

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Communicative and Collaborative Tools in the Classroom

The idea of “21st century learning” and “21st century teaching” has manifested itself across the world.  The most critical aspect of this educational style is to utilize communication and collaboration tools in the classroom.  These tools have the power to transform education in numerous ways.

Communication and collaboration allow teachers and students to effectively work and share ideas outside of the classroom.  This allows students to work in a more comfortable environment where they feel less stress about incorrectly answering a question in front of their peers.

Improved communication and collaboration also help the teacher determine where each student stands, on specific concepts.  This helps foster a more individualized environment in the classroom, and allows students to get the appropriate help they need to succeed.

Another important aspect these 21st century tools carry with them is the opportunity for parents to gain insight on what their child is learning.  With tools such as Google Classroom, and all the applications incorporated within it, parents are able to keep tabs on their child’s performance inside of the classroom, while staying up to date on the latest lessons, projects, homework, and other various assignments.  Parents can play a very influential role in their child’s life.  The more aware they are, the more they can help their child with the concepts they struggle with, improving the child’s overall performance.

Another example of a technology I can see myself employing is a classroom-based blog.  I would keep the prompts simple for the students to understand and respond to, and they would reflect on the lesson taught that week in class.  This allows students to share their opinions about the concepts, helping me get a better understanding of what went well and what did not, as well as how comfortable each student was with the specific topic.  These blogs will also be available for parents to view, allowing them to be in-sync with that which their child is learning.

21st century communicative and collaborative tools have the ability to re-invent and improve learning and teaching world-wide.  By taking a more individualized approach, teachers are able to reach out to the students needing it.  These tools also allow parents to be more involved in their child’s education, giving the child another source of help if needed.  This technology has great potential to re-shape present-day and future classrooms.

Software & Apps & Games… Oh My!

Educational software, apps, and games–much like other technologies applied in classrooms–have great potential to promote student learning.  These tools broaden students’ knowledge in several subject areas.  Generally speaking, software lays the foundation for the apps and games.  Countless categories of educational software–such as Skills-based Learning, Productivity, Visual Thinking and Concept Mapping, and Simulations and Virtual Reality–perform different functions, and stimulate different styles of learning in the classroom.  Depending on the type of software, apps and games are purposefully incorporated into lessons as “enhancers” and, of course, to keep the students engaged without getting bored.  Numerous different types of software, apps, and games are used in conjunction with each other to foster an efficient learning environment for students.

Unlike traditional teaching methods, academic software, apps, and games promote individualized learning by encouraging students to learn at their own pace, without feeling subordinate to their peers.  These technologies also diversify the ways in which students learn the material.  For example, some students may find it beneficial to learn math by playing games online, using sites such as Weebly, or Mr. Nussbaum, while others prefer to use apps on devices that accommodate them, such as Visnos.  These specialized, digital tools are highly accessible, and allow students to master the specified subject areas taught during class-time both inside and outside of the classroom.

As a future elementary educator, I believe incorporating technologies, such as games and apps, is extremely advantageous to young children learning an assortment of different subjects.  Before the students start diving into these new technologies, they must first learn how to properly utilize these tools.  Elementary students, especially in the lower grade levels, are notorious for this behavior.  A recurring theme in my last couple blogs—Digital Citizenship—is highly important for students of this age, and it cannot be stressed enough.  These kids are so young and inexperienced with these new forms of technologies, that the likelihood of their security being breached is very high.  Prior to students adopting these technologies inside the classroom, they must learn both how to correctly use them, without abusing the privilege.

Once students develop a sense of familiarity with these technologies, it’s time to play!  After learning about different kinds of software, apps, and games, I have a better sense of which will be the most constructive to exercise in the classroom.  Presumably, elementary students will not be highly accustomed to these categories of technology, so I plan on keeping them simple to navigate, while enhancing the overall lesson and helping the students to learn.  Take reading fluency and creative writing, for example: Without technology, students will most likely be assessed by reading from an informational prompt assigned by the teacher, or writing a short story using sensory words and colorful language.

Technology allows students to go “above and beyond” on assignments.  ColARmix is one of many examples (and personally, my favorite) on how students can enhance their creative writing skills.  ColARmix turns students’ coloring pages into a 3D image that performs specific tasks, depending on the picture.  Students then present their pictures with its movements in front of the class, creating a story to accompany it.

 To help students with reading fluency, I will have my students use Flocabulary, which is an interactive tool that allows students read about a specific topic–for example, the Industrial Revolution—and the app will transform their words into a Hip-Hop Remix.  This makes students learn the material while they enjoy and learn their songs.

Several forms of software, apps, and games help promote student learning in a number of ways.  Looking forward to my teaching career in the future, it is of utmost importance that the technology being incorporated into my classroom will improve the lessons as well as the students’ knowledge.  Personally, I would prefer if the digital tools I employ in the classroom are entertaining to the class.  I believe that the earlier students engage with these technologies, the sooner they will learn to love learning, and become eager to explore new concepts on their own.

The Four Cs of 21st Century Learning

America’s system of education is outdated and does not effectively prepare students for a successful, well-rounded future in education.  Schools and other learning programs across Capture[1]America are still preoccupied with teaching students about the 3 “R”s (reading, writing, arithmetic), when 21st century learning is stressing the Four Cs — Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, and Critical Thinking.  The Four Cs are extremely important in both the learning process and the teaching process.

Teachers need to take it upon themselves and their colleagues to effectively transform their classrooms into 21st century learning classrooms.  This includes appropriate communication and collaboration with each other in order to improve upon teaching styles.  Teachers should also communicate with each other to take the standards set forth by the Common Core and find ways to go improve and expand upon them.  This involves a great deal of critical thinking as well as creativity.

Besides incorporating the Four Cs in the classroom, teachers need to diversify students’ knowledge to help them grow into better 21st century learners.  This includes teaching them to be skilled in subject areas such as science, social studies, geography, and foreign languages.

Above all, teachers need to recognize their responsibility as role models to their students in the classroom.  By demonstrating these competencies, students will have an easier time successfully learning the 21st century skills.