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.


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.