Tuesday, 24 January 2012

WBT & Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction, whole brain teaching, manitoba curriculum
Dr. Carol Tomlinson

Today in class we viewed a video on Differentiated Instruction by Carol Tomlinson, (view her website here). We talk about Differentiated Instruction in every single one of our education classes. If you are not familiar with this topic, it centers on the idea that every classroom is going to have students that represent a broad spectrum of learners and, as teachers, we must plan for these differences. We need to keep in mind that our students are going to be coming into our classrooms with different ability levels, different learning styles, different backgrounds, etc and we need to tailor our classroom to best accommodate all of our students.

In the video, one of the teachers who were featured always had three different types of assignments/tests/projects that he provided for his students. There was the "straight-ahead" option (the easiest level), the "uphill" option (intermediate level) and the "mountainous" option (the most challenging level). The names for the levels were chosen with consideration as they are all meant to imply a step-forward in the learning process. Through conferencing and open communication, the students knew exactly what level they should be working at and they would pick the appropriate assignment. Although each level was tailored to a different ability level, they all focused on the same curricular outcomes which still allowed for group discussion within the classroom. It worked wonderfully!

This got me thinking about if some of the WBT strategies could fit into a classroom that is practicing Differentiated Instruction. In our textbook "Success for all Learners: A Handbook on Differentiating Instruction", put out by Manitoba Education and Training,  a handy chart is provided that overviews what "A Continuum Towards Differentiated Instruction" looks like. The following will summarize areas of the chart and include my opinions about how WBT strategies* may fit into this model.

Culture & Climate
Traditionally, "learning is associated with silence".
Through Differentiated Instruction, "learning is associated with on-task student activities".
- Well we all know that WBT is definitely anything but silent! In my classrooms
  I encourage participation in WBT strategies such as "Teach-Ok" (see last
  Wednesday's post) which is far from silent but still an on-task student activity.
  I think that by encouraging student's to share their information and discuss
  topics together they will be more comfortable in your classroom which leads
  to the development of a positive learning environment.

Ways of Learning & Demonstrating Learning
Traditionally, "teachers present new information through lectures and reading".
Through Differentiated Instruction, "teachers use a variety of instructional modes including music, demonstrations and kinesthetic activities".
- The possibilities with this one are endless! As far as I am concerned, it is a given that
  I will have some sort of visual to go along with my lessons but after that, I believe that
  a teacher's only major restriction is their creativity level.What really stood out for me
  with this one was the demonstrations and kinesthetic activities. Many WBT strategies
  incorporate visuals referred to as "Power Pix" that a teacher uses kinesthetic
  gestures and demonstrations to explain so I think that this is a great match.

Instructional Methods
Traditionally, "students are passive".
Through Differentiated instruction, "students are active".
- I think WBT allows for students to be incredibly active! In "Teach-Ok" students are
  continually engaged and participating in the lesson. It also allows for them to develop
  an awareness of their meta-cognition process because by having to "teach" material
  to their neighbour, they develop an awareness of how much of the material they
  understand. Teachers can then use this awareness when holding teacher-student
  conferences to help understand the student's individual style of learning.

Traditionally, "assessment happens at the end of a unit or course".
Through Differentiated Instruction, "assessment is ongoing".
- Yay for formative assessment! I think that this is something that teachers can do
   in many different ways. Remember, your only restriction is creativity. When using
   "Teach-Ok" teachers circulate around the room as their students work as teams
   to review material. This is a perfect opportunity to assess if your students have
   understood the lesson or not. As this assessment occurs, teachers can then plan
   accordingly to either spend more time on the topic or move onto something a
   bit more challenging.

Classroom Configuration
Traditionally, "desks are arranged in rows facing the teacher".
Through Differentiated Instruction, "desks or tables are rearranged as needed to facilitate working groups and student interaction".
- I am a HUGE fan of moving around desks and tables (if my cooperating teacher
  is comfortable with it). During my last student teaching placement I moved around
  the desks on a regular basis depending on what type of activity we were doing.
  WBT incorporates a lot of group work amongst students and encourages
  discussions with peers so I would move around the desks into partner groupings
  or larger groups (up to 4 or 5) depending on the activity.

Through this summary, I am comfortable saying that I will be able to use Differentiated Instruction in my classroom and still be able to incorporate elements of the WBT strategies. In my eyes, they almost seemed to naturally go together anyways!

* I tried to focus on the strategy of "Teach-Ok" as it was covered in my post from last Wednesday.
(1996). Success for all learners: A handbook on differentiating instruction (1.12). Manitoba: Manitoba Education & Training.

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