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There are countless ways of learning things. The fact that each individual is unique proves that there are also innumerable and unique ways of learning for every single individual. Few decades back, the problem with the educational system is the lack of tailor-fitted and unique ways of teaching for every student.
Not all students think and process learning the same way, hence, the fact that there is only one method or means of teaching in school creates a wide gap between the teacher and the students and the ultimate aim of successfully teaching the students. Moreover, the measures used by teachers in evaluating whether a student has indeed learned is also filled with discrepancies due to the traditional principles and methods of teaching being applied to almost every school in all parts of the world
Today, various approaches and methodologies in teaching students are slowly being applied among different school systems after having recognized the fact that the traditional means of teaching are not really as efficient and as effective as before. What the student needs today is a differentiated means of learning and preferably a new instructional method that could allow the student to perceive, understand, think and learn the ideas being taught to him (Hall, Strangman & Meyer, 2009).
According to Tomlinson (2001), differentiated instruction is a new theory in teaching that was based on the context and idea that various instructional approaches to learning must be utilized in order to successfully adapt to the needs of every individual inside a classroom filled with diverse students.
The beauty with differentiated instruction is the application of a flexible and unique instructional approach that adjusts to the students' curriculum instead of the learners adjusting themselves to the curriculum. In fact, many teachers and instructors have already proven the differentiated instruction to be highly-effective especially within diverse classroom settings (Hall, Strangman & Meyer, 2009).
Nevertheless, while differentiated instruction served to benefit many students in terms of facilitating effective learning, many teachers and educators find the process challenging. Teachers and educators alike find the application of differentiated instruction to be a challenge as they do not know which among the classroom elements of learning should be modified (Tomlinson, 2000).
Sometimes, the tendency is only to focus on a specific student profile and apply the differentiated instruction strategies that fit that profile while totally ignoring other student profiles that may exist in the classroom out of which learning issues and discrepancies may unavoidably occur (Tomlinson, 2000).
Objectives of the Study
This paper entitled "Effective Strategies in Designing, Applying and Implementing Differentiated Instruction in a Learning Institution" aims to address some key issues and challenges faced by both educators and instructors alike when it comes to implementing differentiated instruction inside the classroom. Specifically, this paper will address the issues on class size, professional staff, administrative support and parental support when it comes to applying the differentiated instruction methodologies inside the classroom.
This paper will provide clear, practical and well-thought out strategies in addressing these issues and removing these key barriers to effective differentiated instruction application inside the classroom. Furthermore, this paper aims to provide the readers, particularly the teachers and instructors, the confidence to apply these practical yet very effective strategies in differentiated learning.
Statement of the Problem
The main problem that this paper will be addressing is the difficulty of applying differentiated learning inside a classroom setting given four major issues that need to be solved which are the following: class size, professional staff, administrative support, and parental support.
To be specific, the following questions will be answered by this paper in order to address the key identified issues:
On Class Size: What is the ideal class size for differentiated learning to be effective? How do you deal with a class size of more than the ideal number of students? How do you ensure that differentiated learning is still effective despite the huge class size?
On Professional Staff: How do you deal with a learning institution with too little number of staff? How do you effectively facilitate differentiated learning given that there is only few staff available?
On Administrative Support: How do you effectively apply differentiated instruction in a learning institution with too little or almost no support from the school administrators like the principal? And finally,
On Parental Support: How do you effectively apply differentiated instruction in a learning institution with too little or almost no support from the parents of the students?
Solutions & Strategies in Designing, Applying and Implementing Differentiated Learning
The Class Size Issue
In a classroom setting composed of a diverse range of students, the question on the effectiveness of differentiated instruction can easily and confidently be claimed to be a success. Nevertheless, when differentiated instruction is applied to a bigger classroom setting, the effectiveness of differentiated instruction may suddenly become questionable (Ellis, 1984).
The issue on class size is indeed a controversial policy issue due to the primary reason that smaller classes allow higher chances of learning and interaction between students and teachers and thus is considered more effective compared to bigger classes which encourage the opposite (Ellis, 1984).
According to Hollowell (2009), an ideal number of students in a classroom that would allow for differentiated learning to be effective is lower than 20. Normally when it comes to grouping the students and dividing them among learning groups, only 4 to a maximum of 5 groups may be effectively handled by a teacher.
Ellis, T. (1984) also argues that class size is one big factor in the effectiveness of differentiated instruction especially on learning that emphasize the skills acquisition such as music, fine arts, and writing.
Nevertheless, for a teacher/instructor dealing with bigger classroom size, the strategy that may be used is the acquisition of additional teachers or instructors who will act as co-facilitators. The classroom design/environment may also prove to be an important element in facilitating a big class size. When managing a big class, the instructor has to ensure that all students will participate in the activities and not just those in front. In fact, it will be very interesting if the teacher will change the seat plans often in order to make sure that all students get to interact with one another at least once.
The teacher has to keep an eye on groups of students who always "flock" together as the tendency is for them to just chat with each other and not listen or participate in the activities. The teacher also has to make sure that the seats of all students are elevated and well-lighted in order to clearly see who among the students are busy doing other things outside of the classroom activity.
The Professional Staff Issue
The shortage among instructors/teachers and co-facilitators is one of the major concerns in the school today. According to Hollowell (2009), many teachers struggle in implementing differentiated instruction because most activities involved in it require the help of a co-facilitator or a classroom assistant, especially when bigger class sizes are involved.
When the teachers lack the much needed assistance of other co-teachers or teaching assistants and there is no one available, the teacher facilitating a differentiated instruction class must immediately think of creative ways to address the situation.
One, the teacher may change the design activity into a group activity which would require brainstorming of ideas among the learning groups. For instance, instead of teaching a specific topic, the teacher may resort to letting the class read a specific text and then brainstorm among themselves what they understood from the text and later on report what they learned and understood from the text.
The report would merely be a validation on whether the students indeed learned from the assigned text and topic and the teacher would critique each group and give them points for improvement. Since the reports will happen one group at a time, it will be easier for the teacher, even in the absence of a teaching assistant, to correct, build and encourage the learnings of the students.
Grouping the students and allowing them to brainstorm ideas on their own is also one effective means of facilitating differentiated instruction given the lack of professional staff available who may not be able to provide assistance in other classroom activities or methods prepared by the teacher.
The Administrative Support Issue
Despite the growing popularity of the application of differentiated instruction within various learning institutions, there are still some learning institutions, governed by traditionalists or school administrators which are still not open to the different, unusual and unique ways of facilitating differentiated instruction (Hall, Strangman & Meyer, 2009).
In fact, many learning institutions are still run by school administrators who prefer their students to be seen sitting down inside the classroom listening intently to the teacher and not talking to one another. According to Hollowell (2009), there are still traditional principals in certain schools who do not like to see their students getting up from their desks and moving from one place to another during classroom activities as they perceive it to be chaotic. What they do not know however is that interaction pushes these students to participate in learning and making progress.
Unfortunately, many teachers who are implementers of differentiated instruction get into conflict with their school administrators when it comes to the application of differentiated learning. In order to minimize this kind of issue, the teacher must pitch in the benefits of differentiated learning to the school administrators.
Merely explaining the benefits of differentiated learning would not be sufficient in order to convince the school administrators to accept this method of teaching. Nevertheless, showing them the increased results in school performance of students (e.g., higher grades, more students getting perfect scores, less students being absent in class) may prove to be strong indicators of the effectiveness of differentiated instruction in terms of increasing the learning success and interest of students.
The Parental Support Issue
Similar to the issue on school administrator support, the issue on parental support in the implementation of the differentiated instruction methods was also proven to be a tough one. According to Hollowell (2009), one key means to the effective implementation of differentiation instruction is the students' parents support and approval. When the students' parents are aware of the benefits of differentiated instruction in the effective school performance of their child, it would be very easy to win their support.
Nevertheless, proof or evidence must be shown by the teacher that indeed, the students increased their learning abilities in school which resulted to better grades, increased enthusiasm in school and increased confidence and interest in learning. The teacher may also pitch in the idea that the students' learnings in school should also be reinforced at home in order to gain parents' participation in implementing effective differentiated instruction.
In order to win parental support and approval, the teacher must be able to enumerate the possible benefits of this new teaching method to their children. Then the teacher must be able to prove the benefits of differentiated instruction through the improved school performance of the students. Finally, the teacher must be able to properly and effectively explain to the parents their role in the successful implementation of differentiated instruction even at home.