Tuesday, May 19, 2015

#BCTLT Model Teachers Study Differentiated Instruction Misconceptions!

Contributors:  Laurie Donald, Samantha Happel, Jennifer Hasenmiller, Cynda Mehlert, Emily O’Connell, Michelle Smith, Dawn Stokes, Jeremy Suiter, Andrea Townsley

Members of the #BCTLT have been studying differentiation since the start of this school year.  We have compiled our research to share with stakeholders.  This post will help you answer the following questions:  

What is differentiation? Why is it beneficial to my students? How do I get started?

Misconception #1:  If traditional schooling worked for me, it should work for my students.
Our students are continually changing and the society they need to be able to contribute to is ever evolving, so we cannot continue to teach the same way that we’ve always taught in the past.
  • Did Traditional Schooling really work for us? - We were able to be successful, but was that a quality of the school system, or was that a personality trait? What could our school experience have been for us if it had been differentiated?  
  • Technology - Exponential growth is occurring in technology and our students don’t need teachers to be the expert in the room anymore.  Today’s students need to be able to decide what information is relevant and determine how to use it.  They need to be able to make decisions in and contribute to a global economy.
  • Personalized Learning - When students can take information and apply it to their life, they can create lifelong meaning.  Through differentiation, personalization allows students to find the content, the process, or the product that works for them.  

Misconception #2:  Differentiation equals individualization.
Differentiation does not mean that all instruction has to be individualized.  This would be unrealistic to expect teachers to individualize every lesson for every student.  Instead, teachers can differentiate their instruction in four different ways based on readiness, interests, or learning profiles:
Content—What the student needs to learn or how the student will get access to the information;
Process—Activities in which the student engages in order to make sense of/or master the content;
Products—Culminating projects that ask the student to rehearse, apply, or extend what he or she has learned in a unit;
Learning Environment—The way the classroom looks and feels.

There are ways to differentiate that do not include individualization

To get started teachers can use formative assessment data or learning styles to group students.

Misconception #3:  Differentiation is a lot of work and it takes a lot of time.  

When we think about differentiating for our students, it can become overwhelming. You know you want to make changes to the way you structure your classroom to meet your students’ needs.  You have an idea in your head, but then there is the dilemma of time.  Here is a hint:  you are probably already differentiating and you aren’t even aware of it!

Our advice for getting started:
  • Stop and reflect on current practices
  • Start small - offer choices to students
  • Know your resources (outlined below)
  • Observe other teachers who are differentiating
  • Invite colleagues proficient in differentiation into your classroom for feedback
  • Avoid the misconceptions outlined in this post

Don’t attempt to make changes to your entire day right off the bat.  Start small and offer some choice to your students.  Focus on differentiating content, process, or product of one lesson or unit.  There are many resources available to support you in this process.  The teacher leaders at Benton Community have been studying this approach to student learning and we would be happy to help out.

Many resources are available to help you get a start! 
  • #BCTLT - start up a coaching cycle with an Instructional Coach on ways to incorporate more differentiation strategies into your day.  Seek out a Model Teacher for additional ideas and support.
  • Visit the #BCTLT Differentiated Instruction Symbaloo!
  • Follow an edChat on Twitter and look for ways other teachers are differentiating to meet students’ needs.  Examples include - #differentiation #iaedchat 
  • Members of #BCTLT presented a breakout session in our November PD.  Visit this link for resources they shared.  

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