Differentiated instruction is not a new concept and does not have a specific look or follow a step- by-step plan. According to Smith and Throne, differentiated instruction is a framework made up of a variety of strategies to meet learners’ needs (p. 6, 2007). Strickland describes it as a philosophy of teaching and learning that embraces student diversity (2004). I believe both are correct. Differentiated instruction is one of many philosophies of teaching but it also includes any strategy a teacher may use to help his or her students learn. DI will look different in every classroom for every teacher. Three important points to keep in mind include integrating technology into the curriculum, teacher and student roles in the DI classroom and quantity versus quality of activities in a DI classroom.
Technology is a great way to enhance a DI classroom, if it is used effectively. Technology should not be thrown into a lesson for the sake of using technology. Technology should be integrated into the content curriculum (Smith & Throne, 2007). The lesson should not be about the technology but about how the technology relays the content. The technology being used should help the students interact with the information in a meaningful way. A great example would be the remote systems that many teachers use to gain feedback. Students enjoy using the remotes but that should not be the sole reason for using them. The remote systems provide instant feedback to the teacher and the students. The feedback should help the teacher alter instruction based on student needs. If the information that the remote systems provide is not being utilized then the technology is simply being used for the sake of using technology, not to better the learning environment.
Teachers are tasked with the job of educating all learners. Every student comes to us with a unique set of skills and challenges. However, teacher education programs teach all educators the same set of skills. It is the job of each teacher to take these skills and adapt them to their classrooms. Teachers must have a “whatever it takes” attitude when designing their classroom practices (Strickland, 2004). Teachers differentiate the content and activities in the classroom but the students also have an important role in the DI classroom. When using a constructivist approach in a DI classroom students guide their own learning. Teachers provide the framework for learning while giving students a choice in how they will gain and show understanding of the content. Students come to realize how they learn best and become more engaged in the learning.
Another misconception that a DI classroom tackles is the quantity versus quality debate. Some teachers believe that every student must complete the same activities with a certain percentage of accuracy to show mastery. Mastery can be shown in a variety of ways. The new “flipped” model of learning is a great example of DI at work. This model of learning takes lecture out of the classroom and brings independent practice back in. Students are assigned the lecture as homework. The lecture can be in a variety of formats including video, audio or visual. Students then come to class the next day ready for discussion. It increases the amount of time that teachers are able to conference with individual students. In this type of classroom not all students will complete the same activities but all students will show mastery.
Differentiation happens in most classrooms on a daily basis, sometimes without the teacher knowing they are differentiating instruction for their students. Teachers want their students to succeed. Differentiated Instruction is a way for teachers to educate all learners. I am utilizing the “flipped” method of learning this year and the readings for this week’s assignments have reinforced my belief that technology is an important tool when used in the right way. I have realized that as I use this method some students will be at a mastery level rather quickly while others may get there at a slower pace and it is okay if all students do not complete the same activities. The goal is for students to take charge of their own learning and reach mastery. Mastery does not have to be at least a 70% on the final exam. Students can reach mastery in a variety of ways. It is my job to provide the opportunities and a safe environment while students choose how they learn the content of each unit.
Smith, G., & Throne, S. (2007). Introduction and Overview and principles of differentiated instruction. In Differentiating instruction with technology in K-5 classrooms (pp. 1-16). Eugene: ISTE.
Strickland, Cindy A. (2004, November). Differentiated instruction: An overview. EPS update, 5, Retrieved September 8, 2012, from http://www.ocmboces.org/tfiles/folder839/Differentiated_Instruction.pdf