January 21, 2016
Differentiating Instruction for All Learners
Essential question: What is differentiated instruction?
Differentiating instruction does not need to influence every aspect of the learning situation; content, process, and product. It may include any one or two combinations of these three aspects of instruction (Milman, 2014). Each learner accesses content uniquely according to personal experience, background knowledge, culture, and an array of skills that may affect their personal process or approach to any particular activity. Differentiating content to allow students access it through auditory or visual means, for example, may be needed because of a particular disability or just a different learning style at that time on their own learning path. Some students may need to differentiate the process of learning content by linking that allow them to “delve deeper into the content” (Milman, p. 3). Or learners may need to build their own understanding of specific content. Students may not be ready to write a research paper, or simply be bored with using this approach; so product options need to be differentiated as well. Students may create a video in a group or present a report on a wiki where links can be embedded. Differentiated instruction, then, involves planning for students’ learning based on their specific learning needs.
Although tasks are set forth within a curriculum framework for learners, learners have their own ways of proceeding through activities. An activity includes learning collaboratively (to problem solve and learn in a social and cultural context that stretches the learner’s perspective) , independently (to deepen understanding in an area of individual interest), and within a learning environment that utilizes both the physical (brick and mortar face-to-face learning) and virtual (people outside the learner’s culture or connecting to likeminded others across the nation). To summarize, learners need to access information across a variety of media, in a variety of settings and practice communicating through a blended learning environment that is learner-centered (Betham, 2013).
Smith and Throne (2009) bring up another important aspect of differentiated learning. When working with middle school age teenage students there is “a wide range of diversity in their social, emotional, and intellectual levels of development” (p. 33). Most importantly in my mind is to harness the opportunity to help them develop neuro-pathways during this important time of brain growth, and before the brain begins the process of pruning synapses, by motivating students to learn through engaging activities that are motivation to them individually and with their peers in a social context. We can also help them develop their social and emotional capacity by teaching them “to respond in emotionally and socially appropriate ways . . . [that] actually affects concrete brain circuits, particularly those in the prefrontal cortex” (p. 35). With technology being so varied, we can design instruction that utilizes a myriad of strategies in the web 2.0 environment alone to inspire learning and growth.
Beetham, H. Designing for active learning in technology-rich contexts(2013). In H. Beetham and R. Sharpe (eds.) Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age designing for 21st century learning, New York and London: Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group.
Milman, N. B. (2014). Differentiating instruction in online environments. Distance Learning, 11(4), 21-23.
Smith, G. E., & Throne, S. (2009). Differentiating instruction with technology in middle school classrooms. Eugene, OR: ISTE.