Schools have come a long way from being a homogeneous institution. The schools of today are diverse in every aspect. The diversity in classes is no longer limited to gender and race, but surpasses to children who are high achievers, low achievers, and children with disability. The ability to teach every child has new significance in classrooms. Differentiated instruction is a method through which teachers can reach every child. According to Anita Woolfolk (2011) differentiated instruction is a flexible teaching method where lessons are individualized based on what the student needs. Differentiated instruction is carried out in several ways that affects how a classroom runs.
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In an inclusive classroom differentiated instruction ensures reaching every student’s needs and the opportunity for them to learn, succeed, and achieve. Since students nowadays are from many different background, culture, skills, and learning style, most teachers are intimidated by the differences. However, there are broad variety techniques to assist teachers to reach every student. In order to succeed in differentiated instruction, teachers need to plan and give out clear instructions. They should expect the highest out of students though expectations may vary according to the child needs. The teacher should help students to achieve by giving the appropriate assessments, supportive environment, and instructional materials; even students with mild to moderate disability still can engage in a normal classroom activity. In order to adapt and to modify an inclusive classroom, Tomlinson (1999) stated some intentional principles in helping every student to achieve. They are; assessment and instruction are inseparable and teacher and students collaborate in learning and many more. Teachers need to constantly look back to modify his or her lesson and adjust to a level that all students can fully engage in it. Collaborate learning is great for interactions between the teacher and the student. Connections make progress in creating and contributing a good environment.
In addition, differentiate content, process, products, and learning environment is what most teachers look for in an inclusive classroom. How do students access information that they do not understand, or how and what the student needs to learn? Presenting auditory and visual lessons are inevitable because when students see and hear information at the same time, they develop more thoughts and will be more engaged in the classroom. For students with learning disabilities, grouping and regrouping based on their interest are necessary. Teachers can start with simple graphic organizers like KWL charts. In an inclusive classroom, some student may be highly achieving and some may not be as the advanced students, thus teachers should keep every student in the class busy. Highly achieving students may work on more challenging task while teacher can work individually with LD students. In order to do so, teachers’ time management is significantly important. The amount of time teachers should spend on a student may vary. He or she is to provide additional support for struggling learner and give encouragement for advanced learners.
There are three keys to describe differentiation according to Holm (2001), which are “(a) targeting student’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), (b) capitalizing on student’s intellectual skills and talents, and (C) fostering authentic motivation.” Reaching ZPD require teachers to pay close attention to the student’s needs so they are not assigned to an easy task, or a extremely difficult task. Capitalizing student’s skills and talents can broaden their strengths and support their weaknesses. Giving the right motivation can help children to reapply the same skills in their daily life. Creating appropriate and effective projects motivates students to participate as a team. It helps the classroom become student-centered. Instead of the old fashion way, where the teacher alone reads to the class, teachers are now concentrated on how a student performs in front of their peers. Classroom activities are interactions between students and students, as well as students and teacher.
If there is a particular LD student that a teacher finds especially challenging, he or she should take the right approach by seeking support from IEP, Individualized Education Programs help students to achieve academic goals more easily. Holm (2001), suggests that the Considerations Packet mentions that, “IEP can provide a wealth of information regarding student interest, readiness, and learning profile.” It narrows down to help each individual student in depth. They focus on students and help them accomplish what they can do. They teach based on the student’s interest and their suitable skill level. Combining professional and general teacher in a differentiated classroom can improve the classroom’s environment into a more efficient and effective classroom. General teacher can focus on the whole and professionals can provide services to build on success for LD students.
Grouping in classrooms plays an important role in how differentiated instruction is carried out. Two types of grouping found common are ability grouping and flexible grouping. Ability grouping is defined as grouping students in groups of two or three according to their ability. John Hollifield (1987) mentions it as one of the oldest and most controversial grouping methods. Ability grouping can be further divided into between class and within class ability grouping. Between class ability grouping is when children from different classrooms or grades are separated into groups according to their ability within a subject matter. Within-class ability grouping deals with students of an individual class being grouped according to their abilities. Ability groupings are put together so that children can work at their own pace. The high achievers can compete with the other high achievers and excel while the low achievers and the children with disability are put in groups where they are given extra attention. Some of the arguments presented against ability grouping are that they do not let the low achieving students get challenged by the high achieving students. The groups might always stay the same which might lead to labeling for students by the other students. Labeling can also lead to self fulfilling prophecy. Students will start thinking that they will always stay as low achievers. According to Hollifield (1987) groups should be small and should constantly be changed due to reassessments of children.
Flexible grouping was created keeping the disadvantages of ability grouping in mind. According to Michael Ford (2005) grouping should vary constantly. In flexible grouping the size of the groups vary from time to time. There is no set type of grouping for the whole year. Groups are no longer homogeneous but are heterogeneous; children are no longer grouped according to their ability or disability. Students are constantly reassessed and put into different groups. Children get chance to work with everybody in the classroom. Differentiated instruction is achieved through unity.
Along with coming up with various grouping methods in the classroom, teaching techniques are also taken into consideration in differentiated instruction. Teachers are responsible for taking into consideration the lesson/subject as well as the students attending the lesson. It is through differentiate instruction that teachers are able to view and guide students toward their role as an active participant in the classroom. This process is performed through constantly evaluating student’s progress by asking questions, creating opportunities for students, providing support along with creating an environment most beneficial for the student. The instruction is differentiated to meet the need of each student. It is through differentiated instruction that students, teachers and the curriculum interact as well as work individually. The “cog” of differentiation demonstrates this relationship of association and disassociation. It exhibits the students as taking the role of seeker in knowledge. It demonstrates the teachers as taking the roles of a guider/provider of knowledge. It establishes the curriculum as the structure for both the seeker and the guider of knowledge. Differentiated Instruction provides chances to individual growth. It focuses on student-based education that is made up of combination of different learning styles to implement vast learning. According to Tulbure (2011), “differentiate instruction on the level of higher education is represented by the differentiation upon personal learning styles” (80). If students are presented with differentiated instruction that provides a method that works for them, it helps produce a positive outlook for students towards their involvement in academic achievement and success. The advantages of differentiated instruction is that it promotes individual difference, provides equal opportunities for all students, provides flexibility and is student centered that promotes student’s needs. The disadvantages of differentiated instruction is that it loses the student’s interest towards learning as too much is taken up in presenting the activity. It leads to difficulties in adjusting a whole-class instruction, which reduces flexibility. Differentiated instruction has various pros and cons and has impacted the modes of instruction in education.
Another aspect that plays a role on differentiated instruction is technology. Technology has become an essential component of the education system and the society. Today’s classrooms are enriched with diverse technology such as smart boards, laptops, ipads, clicker, etc. It has made everyday teaching technology based without which classrooms have become unable to function. Technology has become extremely valuable for classroom settings, students and teachers. It has changed the society and generation norm.
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People of western countries have become so involved with technological gadgets that they are known as the “digital natives.” According to Mostmans, Vleugels and Bannier (2011) research has demonstrated that it has become an important aspect in development of the youth. It provides them with a digital mode of learning and education. It implements creativity, exploration and potential growth. It also promotes individuality along with personal growth. Students are able to use their creativity and make their own choices in academics. The researchers also stress that technology in classrooms provides students with a new mode of exploration, communication and collaboration. They suggest the production of new programs which will help bring students together and help them to challenge themselves intellectually. Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) expresses that students should work together and that learning doesn’t take place in isolation but collectively. Students will learn by questioning and finding out solutions with help of one another. Technology is also considered to be extremely advantageous for youth with disabilities. It is known by the term “assistive technology,” any piece of machine that implements and improves learning in individuals with disability. It is the law made by IDEA that requires special education providers to supply assistive technology to all students with disability.
Teacher expectations also play an important role in differential learning. It can impact the overall academic performance of students in school. When one thinks of teacher expectations, the term may refer to teachers expecting certain behaviors and levels of performances from certain students. In other words, the term teacher expectation may imply inequalities. What is more, the effects and ethnic variations of teacher expectations can hinder student’s abilities to learn at their fullest potential.
According to Rubie-Davies, Hattie and Hamilton (2006), there are two categories of teacher expectation effects: sustaining expectation effects and self-fulfilling prophecy effects. First, sustaining expectation effects is when teachers expect students to perform a certain way that was previously observed and may not take into account any changes that students may make after. Second, the self-fulfilling prophecy states that teachers’ incorrect expectations can lead students to perform and fulfill this prophecy. Such a viewpoint can hinder teacher’s perception that the student cannot change or improve their performance, and this leads to the teacher viewing the student as low achieving. One difference between sustaining expectation effects and self-fulfilling prophecy effects is that the latter “creates change in students’ performance, while sustaining expectation effects “thwart the potential for any change.” Moreover, self-fulfilling prophecy effects are also called Golem effects and Galatea effects (Rubie-Davies et al., 2006, p. 430). Golem effects are negative effects and results from teachers’ low expectations that can hinder the academic performance of students, while Galatea effects are positive effects and results from teachers’ high expectations that increase the academic performance of students.
Furthermore, one factor that may influence teacher expectations is the race and ethnicity of students. A great deal of research has been done on how ethnicity influences teacher expectations, and much of the conclusions have been drawn the same: teachers are more likely to have higher expectations for white students and lower expectations for minority students (Rubie-Davies et al., 2006, p. 430; Tenebaum & Ruck, 2007, p. 253). In one study that observed the differences in teacher expectations of the reading performance of Maori, Pacific Island, Asian and New Zealand European students, it was found that “sustaining expectation effects explained Maori students’ limited progress,” and self-fulfilling prophecies may have been operated among Pacific Island, Asian and New Zealand European students (Rubie-Davies et al., 2006, p. 439). In another study that collaborated several previous data on teacher expectations toward minorities and European American students, “teachers were found to hold the highest expectations for Asian American students, and held more positive expectations for European American students than for Latino/a and African American students” (Tenebaum & Ruck, 2007, p. 253). When teachers hold high and positive expectations for certain students, they are more likely to challenge them, give prompts, call on them, and give support and encouragement. When the teachers hold low and negative expectations for other students, the opposite is true.
A possible reason why teacher expectations vary along racial and ethnic lines is because of the stereotypes that exist in society and the fact that teachers may hold onto them. For one, racism has been deeply embedded in the history of the United States. Teachers may hold true to the model minority myth that Asians perform better in STEM courses. In the study previously mentioned, teachers may have hold true to the stereotype that Maori families do not value education (Rubie-Davies et al., 2006). Whatever the reasons may be, it is crucially important that teachers address their own biases, stereotypes, and unfair views of students, as well as their families. Teaching every child means that every child must have an equal opportunity to education, and teachers play a vital role. In the end, the outcome is beautiful: every child learns to their fullest potential, and they grow and mature with the necessary competency needed to contribute to this rapidly changing world.
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