I personally believe that differentiation should play a crucial role in the classroom because it is so important that the teacher works to meet the needs of all of his or her students. When a teacher has exceptional students in the classroom, he or she must differentiate instruction to meet the needs of these students. The teacher can provide assistive technologies to the student or change the lesson plan based on the learning styles or readiness of the student.
I am most familiar with differentiation based on learning styles and readiness because these are very common and can be easily integrated into the curriculum. I personally think I could have been more successful in my early education had the lessons been differentiated based on my learning style and my personal needs in the classroom. I get distracted easily and I struggle to pay attention when a teacher lectures. I struggle with learning through auditory means but I am successful with visual and kinesthetic based activities. For me, differentiation based on learning styles is very important. I even based my inquiry on this topic when I performed research and differentiated lesson plans based on the learning styles of my students to increase their engagement.
I have worked with students based on these two types of differentiation. I designed many lesson plans to meet the needs of my students and I have implemented some of these lesson plans in the classroom. For example, Word Wizard is one of my favorite lessons and it was a part of my inquiry. I worked very hard this semester to integrate accommodations for my visual, kinesthetic, and auditory learners. In this lesson plan, the students learn about sight words by saying, and spelling the words. The students move around and perform Total Physical Response, which accommodates my kinesthetic learners, as they spell out the words. The auditory learners benefit from the verbal portion of the lesson. At first my visual students did not have a specific accommodation, so I created posters for two months of sight words to help these students see the words. Sometimes a student or I trace the sight words so the visual learners can see how to form the letters that make up the word.
I also think that differentiation based on readiness is important. I think that it is not fair for the teacher to expect students to complete the same activity and be able to show their knowledge on the same assessment that does not meet their needs. Many students know the information but struggle to convey it because the assessment does not meet their needs. I believe a teacher should try to differentiate to meet the needs of his or her advanced learners, core students, and struggling learners. This method of differentiation does not mean to give advanced learners more work and give struggling learners less work. The teacher should instead look at the needs of the students and provide them with the tools and support necessary to be successful. For example, struggling learners may need pictures to support their understanding of vocabulary words. This type of accommodation can also benefit English Language Learners (ELLs) because they can receive extra support to show what they know.
I implemented differentiation based on readiness by working with small groups of students to supplement whole group lesson plans. I typically worked with these small groups during math instruction. I could tell that some students really benefitted from these small groups. On of my English Language Learners struggled to write down the subtraction sentences that we were learning about but when I spoke to him and asked him questions, he was able to correctly explain to me what subtraction was occurring. By working with the student on a more individualized basis, I was able to learn that he is successful through auditory means and so now when I work with this student, I make sure to ask him questions and have him read his writing to me out loud so I can get a better understanding of his thinking.
This semester, I learned a lot about meeting the needs of my students in my Integrating Exceptional Students in General Education Settings course. One of the most important concepts that I learned about this semester was People First language, based on this article: http://www.acdd.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/People_First_Language.pdf I had already learned about this concept in a previous course but the idea is that a person is not defined by their disabilities. A student is not autistic, the student has autism. This language works to empower the person with disabilities because they are more than a disability. As a teacher, I fully believe that my students should come first. I never want to judge a student based on external factors such as gender, race, ethnicity, or having a disability. I look at all of my students as unique individuals and I look for ways to meet their needs through culturally responsive teaching.
I also learned a lot about a variety of different types of disabilities through presentations by my peers. My group made a presentation about autism: http://prezi.com/mfkygbgwjmfz/autism-putting-the-pieces-together/ I believe it is important for teachings to have a general understanding of various disabilities so they can help exceptional students that enter their classrooms. I understand that it would be almost impossible to know everything about disabilities; however, I think general knowledge will allow the teacher to know some of the characteristics of the disability and strategies for helping the student be successful in the classroom. For my group’s presentation, we listed many tips for the teachers as well as strategies that could work for all students. For example, to help students who may call out in class, the teacher can be specific about who will be called on to speak and when the student will be speaking. The teacher can give a visually clue to the student as a reminder of when the student will be speaking. For example, the teacher can hold up three fingers to signify that the student will have a chance to speak after three more people. I think by knowing these strategies, the teacher can help exceptional students and general education students succeed in the classroom.
Although I believe that differentiation should be a key part of every classroom, I understand the difficulties associated with differentiation. In my kindergarten classroom, there are almost forty students so it is difficult to differentiate a lesson plan that meets the needs of every single student. My collaborating teachers and I do differentiate lesson plans based on learning styles and readiness but this requires long hours of work after school. I find myself staying after in order to help my teachers get lessons ready for the following day. But I believe my time is completely worth it. I want my students to be interested and engaged in the lesson so I think that any extra time spent on a lesson to meet the needs of my students is well spent.
I also think that it can be difficult to meet the needs of each individual student. Although some students may be considered advanced learners or above level, they do not necessarily learn in the same way or benefit from the same types of activities. It is almost impossible to make a lesson plan in which each student receives a special assignment based on their individual needs, especially when you consider that I have almost forty students in my classroom. The teacher can; however, make an attempt to meet the needs of the students through differentiation. By making an assignment that accommodates visual, kinesthetic and auditory learners, the teacher can help these students succeed. Some students may respond better to differentiation and some students may need extra support, so by providing differentiation and assessing the data collected from these lessons, the teacher can see who benefits from what and what really helps a student be successful. The students may not always be engaged by these types of lessons, but the teacher’s determination will shine through and show the students that he or she truly cares.
Even after this course, I still have some questions regarding differentiation and integrating exceptional students into the classroom. What portion of the lesson should be differentiated to best help students? Basically, should the teacher focus on differentiating the process or the assessment. I understand that there are benefits to both but is one preferred over the other, especially for students with disabilities. How often should a [beginning] teacher differentiate lessons? Should the teacher make a goal to differentiate a lesson a week or should the teacher try to do more?
I am glad that I had the opportunity to take this course because I learned a lot about differentiation and integrating exceptional students into my classroom. I believe that I should do my best to meet the needs of all my learners. I still have some questions about differentiation and I am still working on implementing differentiation in my classroom but I will continue to learn and grow to become the best educator I can be.