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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AT&T Classroom

I was pleasantly surprised when I was introduced to the AT&T Classroom.  I have never been exposed to so much technology in a classroom, let alone expected to learn how to utilize different types of technologies from first graders!

Before the kids arrived, I was not sure if I was going to be able to enter the classroom and get hands-on experience with the students and their devices.  I figured I was going to sit behind the one-way mirror during their class and take notes while Annette filled me in on what was going on. I was expecting the students to be fairly novice when it came to utilizing the iPads and laptops. I was also expecting them to get very distracted and off topic while handling these technologies.

When I arrived at the AT&T Classroom, I was greeted by Annette and Tom.  After talking with them for a few minutes, the students started to arrive and get settled.  I was very amazed with the students’ abilities and familiarity with their devices.  They introduced me to multiple educational, interactive apps, including Popplet and  TinyTap.

Popplet is a free, digital web-organizer that helps students create a diagram for a specific topic.  The first grade class in the AT&T Classroom was learning about polar bears, and created a web including different facts about polar bears.  The sub-topics were color coordinated, and included three facts branching off of them.  This is a great app that will aid young students in writing research papers and organizing ideas.

The other app I was introduced to was TinyTap.  TinyTap allows students to create their own games, and is a more personalized approach to education.  Students are able to create, play with, and learn from various tools TinyTap has to offer such as: games, puzzles, E-books, quizzes, digital textbooks, and more!  Students are also able to incorporate their own pictures in the games they create.  For example, the second grade class who visited the AT&T Classroom last semester went around Kent State’s campus and took pictures of living and nonliving things, while fourth graders took pictures of different angles and shapes.  These students were able to make games from their pictures that are shared all around the world through TinyTap!  TinyTap is not just for students, however.  Parents, teachers, authors, organizations and brands also use it too!  This is a great app that I can see myself using in my classroom.

Although the students were a little distracted when they shifted from different mediums of technology, their attentiveness inside of the classroom was excellent.  I was fortunate enough to get hands-on experience, and help struggling students with difficult concepts.

Overall, the AT&T Classroom, allowed me to work one-on-one with students, while also providing many different ideas and lessons that I can employ in my future classroom.

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.

Critiquing Elementary Lesson Plans

The first lesson plan I am going to critique is geared towards elementary students, covering figurative language.  I believe that the use of figurative language and creative writing is an extremely important topic that students should learn early and continue to develop as they grow older.

This lesson plan is very effective; it clearly states the objectives, procedures, and how the students will be assessed at the end of the assignment.  The lesson plan also connects with the Common Core State Standards for language arts and writing by demonstrating an understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.  The objective of this lesson plan is for students to do the following:

  • Create a PowerPoint show illustrating two types of figurative language. As an alternative, students will use an interactive online tool to create a similar slideshow presentation, using a site such as Zoho Show. (This site is easier to use than PowerPoint, and free.  Zoho Show also allows students to collaborate, even on different computers with a simple URL address).
  • Demonstrate understanding of personification by creating and interpreting simple examples.
  • Demonstrate understanding of alliteration by creating and interpreting simple examples

The lesson plan continues with a list of materials needed to complete the assignment as well as procedures for the students to follow.  Students will review the concepts of alliteration and personification using different interactive websites provided by the teacher.  They will then start to model their project following the slide requirements for their slideshow, also provided by the teacher.  Before the students begin working on their computerized slideshow, they will need to start brainstorming creative examples of both alliteration and personification using idea cards that may be either digital or non-digital. Once students complete the foundation of the assignment, they are ready to begin their projects.

Depending on students’ familiarity with technology, they have the option to start their power point from scratch, or use a pre-made template.  Each slide should contain examples of alliteration and personification.  Students should also color code and underline the word being personified (on the personification slide) and the alliterative letters (on the alliteration slide). If this project is completed on Microsoft PowerPoint, students will travel from computer to computer and look at their classmates’ projects.  However, if students completed this project using Zoho, they will be able to give their presentations using the interactive SMARTBoard, where students can narrate their own presentations.

When assessing students, the teachers must ensure that students demonstrate that they are comfortable using PowerPoint or Zoho software, and display proficiency in the specified content areas.

I think this lesson plan has the potential to be very beneficial for students.  It not only enhances the level of collaboration among and between students, but also helps facilitate the students’ learning from each other.  What I also find valuable about this lesson plan is how it purposefully integrates technology, and can easily be comprehended by students in elementary school.

Another lesson plan I am going to critique is one that I observed – personally — at the AT&T Classroom.  Before I continue, let me tell you a little about the AT&T Classroom.  It is located on campus at Kent State University that elicits 21st century learning.  The classroom is equipped with technologies — iPads and laptops available to every student — as well as a large interactive SMARTBoard, an Apple TV, and a digital presentation station.  Local teachers bring in their students for a half-day, daily, for six weeks during which they utilize these digital tools.  For more information regarding the AT&T Classroom, visit the AT&T Classroom website.

This lesson plan is also geared towards elementary students; however in this lesson, students are learning about coding and programming games.  This lesson is technology-based in which students use their iPads and the app “Hopscotch” to create their own games.  To learn more about this app, visit the “Hopscotch” website.

As I observed this lesson plan, I noticed how clearly the instructor related it to the students.  The objectives, procedures, and assessment were precise, unambiguous, and easily understood by the students.  The objectives of the lesson are quite simple:

  • Students will code their own game by following along with the instructor’s step-by-step instructions
  • Students will demonstrate their knowledge in game coding using “Hopscotch”

It is now time to get to work.  Since the students are only 7-8 years old, they are unable to completely code games by themselves, so they follow along with the instructor while he/she demonstrates the step-by-step process.  This process is very sequential and it is crucial that students pay very close attention.  Students create new rules — such as “move forward 100” or “jump at 500,100” — to move the different objects in the game.

Once the students have completed the coding process, it is time to try out their creations.  They are assessed on this assignment simply based on whether or not their game works properly.

I find this lesson plan very valuable to students.  Not only are they introduced to new technologies, but they are also learning and understanding complicated skills.  As technology keeps improving, the demand for people who are able to demonstrate coding skills increases tremendously.  Without the implementation of technology in this lesson plan, kids would not get the hands-on experience, or be able to fully understand the process of programming and coding games.

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.