M-CESC Teaching & Learning

February Focus: Differentiated Instruction

Differentiating Instruction: It's not as hard as you think!

Differentiating Instruction: It’s Not as Hard as You Think

What IS Differentiated Instruction?

According to Carol Ann Tomlinson, the “guru” of differentiation, it is: “Differentiated instruction is a teaching philosophy based on the premise that teachers should adapt instruction to student differences. Rather than marching students through the curriculum lockstep, teachers should modify their instruction to meet students’ varying readiness levels, learning preferences, and interests. Therefore, the teacher proactively plans a variety of ways to ‘get at’ and express learning.”

What is UDL
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Types of tiered assignments: scaffolded (task cards, guided notes, leveled texts), station rotation (guided math, guided reading), jigsaw

Open-ended projects (passion products) - could be included in learning contracts/menus or choice boards. You can also include Project Based Learning units as examples of open-ended projects and thus a great way to differentiate for students.

A Huge Piece to DI is Scaffolding...

Dive Brief:

  • Scaffolding can be an extremely useful tool for educators looking to design lessons that help students think and work more independently, according to Edutopia, which examined a 2019 Harvard Graduate School fo Education study on how students were able to best develop these skills.
  • There were six specific scaffolds that helped students move forward in their learning and ability to work on their own. These include asking students to put what they’re learning into context, having students ask open-ended questions, encouraging them to take risks, and pushing students to be more thoughtful when hearing ideas that may not mirror their own.
  • Teachers who use these approaches may be able to help guide students to take what they’re learning and apply those lessons in their next educational or real-life challenge.

Dive Insight:

Assigning students real-world projects can help them build critical thinking skills, and incorporating scaffolding can help guide them further while also deepening these skill sets, seeing them in a context of how they might potentially be used when faced with solving real-world problems at work or in the classroom.

Scaffolding is used at the university level, for example, to help students strengthen the skills they’ll need when they move on into the workplace, noted Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, in a 2018 Education Dive interview.

But the practice of scaffolding can also start as early as preschool, as undergraduates at Rollins College found while working with young children who were introduced to philosophical approaches so they could slow down and think more critically before making a decision about something they’ve heard. The students were supported, or scaffolded, as they developed this process through art projects and other activities in line with their age and grade.

Educators found children who ran through this practice were able to display patience and politeness when having a discussion — characteristics useful in a classroom and, of course, any workplace.

But implementing scaffolding can be time-intensive if it’s to be effective, as a 2015 study, “The effects of scaffolding in the classroom," found. There, “…its effectiveness depends, among other things, on the independent working time of the groups and students’ task effort,” researchers wrote. Sometimes high-intensive, or high-contingent, support worked. Other times, more frequent and low-contingent support worked.

Curriculum designers and administrators must decide which is more workable for their classrooms. Then, they must allow educators the time to develop the scaffolding they believe will best help students build critical thinking skills they will need moving forward in their education and beyond.

**Taken from a brief on Educationdive.com

Six Recommended Scaffolds

In a recent, small-scale study, featured in a report by Emily Boudreau on the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Usable Knowledge website, researchers identified a few intriguing scaffolds teachers can use to help students progress toward more sophisticated, deeper-level learning.

Here are the six scaffolds Boudreau identifies:

1. Encourage students to think about context: Pose questions that push students to think about what they know—and what they don’t yet know. This helps them become more inclined to seek out new connections, patterns, and possibilities. For example, ask: What information did you base your conclusion on? Are you sure—what don’t you know yet about this?

2. Make questions open-ended: Draw out their thinking by using generic probes, or targeted questions, to help students rethink ideas without correcting them outright. For example, ask: Can you tell me more about that? Can you explain that?

3. Tap into students’ knowledge base: Encourage students to dig into what they already know from school, their own experience, and what’s happening right now. Notes study author Grotzer: “[This is a] pedagogical move that says all of the information and experience you have is useful and you can bring it to bear.” Ask: what do you already know that could help you here?

4. Let students own it: Let students know that they should make their own choices. “The role of the teacher is not to make decisions about what to do next or execute,” Boudreau writes about working in this mode of independent inquiry. Teachers can model the way an expert might approach the problem, and ask: What’s next? How are you going to handle this?

5. Cultivate risk-taking: Encourage a classroom risk-taking culture—where students are willing to try new things—by not immediately shooting down incorrect answers and being patient before you jump in and guide students back to a more productive course. For example, say: that’s an interesting idea, let’s explore it.

6. Leave time to debrief: To encourage students to see themselves as active learners, rather than mere participants, encourage regular student reflection with questions about performance, results, and students’ thought process. For example, ask: how do you think your team is doing? How are you managing your learning?

REMEMBER: The Key to Success... Start Small!

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