Wednesday, October 1, 2008

"I'll have a large DI with fries."

We've been looking at Differentiated Instruction (DI) for the last few mornings. And our discussions have led us to ask a range of questions:
Is DI an option or a necessity?
Is it a new "flavour of the month"? a bolt-on strategy?
Is it part of best/exemplary practice?
Is it something that teachers are already doing, (even if they are not using the DI label)?

Differentiated Instruction is about how we meet the needs of our students. But what do we mean by "needs"? Here's a list of areas where our students show diversity, where they have a range of needs.* Take a look and see what you have noticed in your classes.

  • Cognitive abilities
  • Confidence in learning
  • Cultural/ethnic influences
  • Gender influences
  • How students value learning
  • Interest in the subject you teach
  • Learning pace
  • Learning styles (visual, spatial, auditory, tactile, kinesthetic, etc.)
  • Readiness
  • Socioeconomic and family characteristics
(* From Differentiated Assessment for Middle and High School Classrooms by Deborah Blaz: [Link] PDF)

Which of these areas has become/is becoming an issue for you in your instruction? Which do you feel you address well? What resources are you using to help you meet these needs? What expectations do you encounter?


Ms. Panas said...

As I take my first conscious steps into DI, I'm finding that they need to be small steps. The list in the blog entry is overwhelming. I cannot attend to all those differences at once, at least not right now. For one thing, many of them are very difficult to determine--and may even be somewhat ethically challenging. For example, is it ethical for me to ask what my students' cultural backgrounds are? Even if I know their backgrounds, does that mean that all my South Asian students, for example, share the assumed values of that particular group? And how do those cultural values (if they are even correctly determined) impact their learning and my teaching?

It takes time and trust to get to know your students. I can do surveys on multiple intelligences and learning styles, or interest in the subject. But some of the other areas in the list require in-depth knowledge of my students: I may need to do research, or some kind of interview or survey, to find out how my students value learning, or their socioeconomic/family characteristics.

So for now I am sticking to those things which I can most easily determine and which most clearly link to my teaching--their learning styles and types of intelligences.

Is anyone else trying to determine some of those other items on the list? Or am I going about it the wrong way, assuming that I need individual student knowledge when a more general understanding would do?


Anonymous said...

I believe it is key for us to know off these other areas and to consider in our planning some diversity to met some of the generalizations. In the summer course, I noted that in their introductions that sushi and chocolate were the two favourite food choices. My partner who I introduced had Mexican as their choice. Through the next three days, I noticed no one brought chocolate. So Thursday I delivered chocolate nachos for snack. I couldn't remember exactly who loved chocolate but knew that it was a point of contact with many. I also knew that my partner would be tickled that I'd remembered the Mexican angle. Snack time was energized and people were still talking about the chocolate nachos days later. I'd like to plan for these successes in my classes by knowing some of the general interests of a class and specific interests of individuals as they are uncovered. People respond so positively when they see we care to get to know them. Most of the other areas will be accessed through improved assessment practices. How can we be certain of readiness without pre-testing? How can we determine pacing without formative assessment and feedback? Journalling can help us assess the affective areas like confidence and valuing. In my math classes, I can plan on selecting problems that may be of cultural interest. Many of the others are also a matter of attention and increased awareness. We know our classes have two genders. Do we allow this to influence planning?