In order to address differentiated learning, there are a number of things that I already use in instruction. Here are just a few examples.
- Align tasks and objectives to learning goals – Using the Common Core and district curriculum as my guidelines, I create lessons and activities that build student learning. Each class is different, and so I find that I can’t just do the same thing year after year. My curriculum guide is a living, breathing document that changes with each group of students.
- Flexible grouping is consistently used – Depending on the specific lesson or activity, we rotate among whole class groups, small groups, and pairs to construct student knowledge. I regularly re-assign groups based on the content of the activity, keeping in mind student strengths and capabilities.
- Students are active and responsible explorers – I regularly check to make sure each group and partnership is appropriately challenged. If a particular student is rushing through something that is too easy, warning flags go up for me. I regularly reflect and readjust to ensure that each student is interested and eager to move forward.
- Emphasize critical and creative thinking as a goal in lesson design – I always try to make sure that math isn’t a class where students take notes, and then do a bunch of problems. I try to create an environment in which they make connections to the real world, seeing the importance of math in everyday life. We go through problems that may not even have an exact answer, but rather we emphasize the problem solving process.
I think the best tool that can be used in the math classroom to support a struggling learner would be a graphic organizer. There are several types available, specifically discussed back in Thing #3, and if students could see the big picture of how certain math concepts are connected together, perhaps they would see the value behind the content that is being addressed. These could be student- or teacher-created, and they could be started at the beginning of a unit and readjusted as new information is shared. With color-coding, text-reading, and image capabilities, students would have a solid map of the unit. Another graphic organizer could be a rubric, something that would set clear expectations for students early on in the unit or lesson.
Universal Design for Learning!
In the math classroom, I use math manipulatives every time I possibly can. If students can feel it and touch it, it gives them one more way to help their brains remember the concepts. When we go through a probability unit, I have students flip coins several times to see if that whole “50/50” thing is real. If students flip the coin 20, 30, or even 50 times, they may not get the true sense of what it means for two outcomes to be equally likely. However, if we use a virtual math manipulative that can flip the coin for them 100 or even 1000 times in seconds, they can see for themselves that the outcomes do theoretically balance out. I have used the Shodor site frequently (http://www.shodor.org/interactivate/activities/) and the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives (http://nlvm.usu.edu/en/nav/vlibrary.html) for my students. I do have a classroom set of graphing calculators for students to quickly make comparisons in their graphs, but not all students have access to these calculators at home. I see there is a Graphcalc resource (http://www.graphcalc.com/download.shtml) that students could potentially use at home if they have been absent or would like to explore what we have learned in class a little more. Each of these virtual manipulatives will certainly get math into the hands of ALL students.
I used the Natural Reader site (http://www.naturalreaders.com/index.php) to convert a paragraph of this posting into an audio recording. I ended up downloading the free program onto my laptop. I never realized how easy it was to use these text-to-audio programs, and as my “face” of the classroom becomes more of a place for students to access lessons and resources online, I would like to include this website for student use. I often have students with low reading capabilities, and as my 7th grade curriculum consists of a number of real world problems and scenarios, this text-to-audio idea would be essential for these students. They wouldn’t be bogged down by all of the reading, but rather, they would be able to focus on the math of the lesson. However, as I include more student writing into my curriculum, these text-to-audio resources could also be used for students to double check the grammar and “feel” for what they have written. My students are famous for writing something down, and then just submitting it without giving it a second thought. If they ran what they had written through one of these text-to-audio programs, perhaps they would hear the ridiculousness of some of their writing.
1a Promote, support, and model creative and innovative thinking and inventiveness – Providing an environment in which every learner can be successful is my job as a teacher, and putting simple strategies in place to help each and every student only makes sense. With tools such as the text-to-audio converters and online math manipulatives, all students will get their chance at math success.
2c Customize and personalize learning activities to address students’ diverse learning styles, working strategies, and abilities using digital tools and resources – Without actually going through and making three different versions of the same lesson to address students needs, using simple differentiated learning and UDL strategies will still reach the diversity of learners in the classroom. Through flexible grouping and creating innovative and engaging lessons and activities for students, the instructor will be able to reach all student learning styles, working strategies, and abilities.
3a – Demonstrate fluency in technology systems and the transfer of current knowledge to new technologies and situations – Simply being aware of the elements of differentiated instruction, diverse learning, and UDL resources, the instructor will be able to transfer that knowledge through digital age tools. Through continued use and practice of these elements, the instructor will then easily be able to move that knowledge to the newest and most updated technology tools and situations.
4b – Address the diverse needs of all learners by using learner-centered strategies providing equitable access to appropriate digital tools and resources – Through the use of something like the text-to-audio converters, instructors will be providing all learners equitable access to the lessons and activities provided. This would be true of the virtual math manipulatives that were discussed earlier as well.
CITW – Best Practices
1 Cues, questions, and advanced organizers – In order to make the curriculum accessible to each and every student, a graphic organizer could be used to outline the upcoming unit and to outline expectations. Color-coding and images paired with text-to-audio conversions will provide a big picture of understanding for students.
2 Summarizing and note-taking – As students take notes or summarize particular portions of a lesson or activity, they could run it through a text-to-audio converter program to ensure that what they have written makes sense. The students could also use the converter to read certain portions of the textbook or articles to them, allowing them to focus on what they would need to write down for notes or summaries.
3 Assigning homework and practice – The text-to-audio converter could easily be included in the “face” of my classroom, and the students that are working on homework and practice individually could use it to read the assignments to them, it could help them read the assigned text, and it could even read back their written responses.