Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Strategies for Differentiation

Reaching proficiency in a content area for one student does not look the same as it would for another student.  Each student has a different learning style, and while this makes the teacher's responsibility for reaching each and every student in the classroom extremely challenging, the alternative of not reaching each and every student in the classroom carries life long consequences that go far beyond a single classroom setting.  Education has focused on "differentiated instruction" for the past several years, and, while in days gone by when a teacher in a one-room school most likely did not even consider what it meant to teach to the middle, our teachers today have a much more significant challenge to reach each and every student.  The challenge to reach each and every student means just that...each and every student, regardless of the gamet of special needs that may present itself in a single classroom.  So how does a teacher begin to reach each and every student?  Numerous professional sources cite a 5x5 approach:  5 strategies that set the stage for learning and 5 strategies that teachers can employ in the classroom daily.

Setting the stage requires teachers to assess, build relationships, keep students moving forward, teach life skill lessons, and create a community of learners.  Assessment of student skills should be ongoing.  A teacher should always know where her students are in their learning and skill development. This requires that teachers journey alongside their students and make modifications in teaching when needed. Building relationships is what Robert Marzano calls the "key stone of effective teaching."  The knowledge teachers develop about their students and the trust they develop with their students can "make or break" differentiation efforts (Sypnieski, Education Week, January 17, 2012).  Keeping students moving forward means celebrating the small steps they take in their learning.  It is really that simple. Intrinsic motivation can be nurtured through  the small successes students have in the classroom.  Teaching life skill lessons involves showing students the connection between what they do in the classroom and their own lives.  Such lessons throughout the year reinforce the justification for students' continued engagement in their own learning. Creating a community of learners means an environment in which support for each other is paramount and differences are respected.  These five stage-setting practices pave the way for five daily practices that better assure that individual student needs are met.

Differentiating assignments is what allows for students to show similar proficiency in ways that often are not uniform.  This idea further supports the notion that students can complete a different quantity of assignments at various levels of complexity and still gain proficiency in the same standards and benchmarks.  The use of computers, as a supplement rather than a replacement of curriculum, allows students to progress at their own pace and adapt their own learning.  Encouraging students by praising them and helping them learn from their mistakes is a venue all teachers should practice every time they have a chance.  Flexible grouping is a wonderful practice that can encourage students to step outside their own comfort zones.  Groups not based on ability alone but interests and choices are also a way for teachers to determine how to maximize the learning of their students.

Helping students succeed in the classroom is challenging.  Teachers who strive to meet those individual student needs are truly exceptional and are helping their students move forward.

Sypnieski, Education Week, January 17, 2012

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