One would be hard-pressed to find a teacher who doesn’t espouse the virtues of differentiation. Yet finding good examples of differentiation actually occurring in the classroom can also be hard to find. When we do find it, we often see a teacher employing educational technology. The recent book Differentiating Instruction with Technology in Middle School Classrooms by Grace E. Smith & Stephanie Throne highlights the power of technology to make differentiation more possible than ever before.
Teachers differentiate using three criteria to decide the appropriate type of instruction as shown below.
For example, mathematics teachers can differentiate by content by using software that is diagnostic, prescriptive, interactive, and adaptive according to students’ readiness. One such software is Cognitive Tutor®. It diagnoses the holes in a student’s mathematical understanding. Then it prescribes interactive lessons to fill those “holes.” Using a sophisticated monitoring system, it adapts the sequence and difficulty of the lessons according to the student’s input and progress. The teacher’s role is to facilitate the use of the software, pose and answer questions, and to analyze the robust progress reports the software provides to continue to adjust the instruction for the students.
Technology can also lend a hand to differentiation in other subjects such as social studies. Students could be required to present their research and proposed solutions to one of the United Nations Priorities for Action. This already allows for differentiation by content. Process can also be differentiated by using a Google site to collect the student work in an online portfolio. Students create the work in the medium of their choice, such as SlideShare, Photo Story, Voice Thread, Windows Movie Maker, iMovie and others. All of which can be embedded on a Google site set up by the teacher or students.
Differentiation by product is possible by using different types of technology. For instance, student groups could be asked to do a science inquiry on photosynthesis. The presentation of the inquiry and results could be given in a variety of ways including movies simply made with a Flip Video™, presentations using PowerPoint, graphics made with Inspiration, reports using Comic Live, and others. Students can propose the medium in which to show what they know for teacher approval.
Most agree that technology makes learning more engaging for many of today’s students. Perhaps this is because by nature, educational technology allows for greater differentiation. Do you have some examples of how technology has increased your abilities to differentiate? If so, please share in a comment to this posting.
by Matt Kuhn – McREL Lead Consultant