Differentiated Instruction Research Paper
Differentiated instruction recognizes the fact that although students from different social and cultural backgrounds are supposed to have known the same things by the end of the academic year, every student comes into the classroom with unique abilities, skills, and knowledge. These differences are determined by an individual`s origin, religious, and social customs, and his/her early learning environment. Consequently, a teacher who is determined to achieve full learning successes in the classroom must embrace teaching approaches that take into account not only the cultural and social norms, but also the traditional approaches to learning that the students are familiar with. This is true in the teaching of all subjects including English. Techniques of differentiated instruction can permit the English as first language (EFL) or English as second language (ESL) teacher to formulate or select approaches that are learner-driven based on the students` cultural background, individual abilities, unique needs of every students set considering that ESL students are also interested in learning the culture of their new language. Through the use of differentiated strategies, learners are able to build content meaning at an individual level using their interests and choice. It also helps them in developing interest, creating a positive identity, and finding other learners with whom they share similar abilities and interests (Tomlinson, 2005). The infective technique of simply tossing information to the whole group, and hoping that some learners will comprehend everything seamlessly is a sign of irresponsibility on the part of the instructor. A teacher is a service provider who takes on the responsibility of teaching every student. Given that every learner is unique in terms of how they absorb content, teachers must teach them based on what they experience. Consequently, differentiated instruction is fundamental in the teaching profession.
Choice of Differentiated Instruction that Requires Improvement
The identified area that requires professional development for differentiated instruction is the teaching of English to ESL students in my present workplace. In many higher education institutions, including my current workplace, students come from different racial and cultural backgrounds. Some of them have mastered the English language, but a significant number are not so familiar with the English language. As a result, to achieve grade improvements among English language students, the administration at my present workplace have to introduce and support differentiated instruction for English Language Learners (ELLs). This is particularly important considering the fact that the academic performance of English Learning students has been historically poor compared to other subgroups (Abedi, 2003). This is because they face significant challenges in grasping the content of what is being taught given that English is a second language to them. In response to this problem, differentiated English instruction techniques should be adopted and implemented in the institution`s classroom setting.
To effectively implement differentiated instruction for English as second language learners, there are four major leadership principles that the school leadership must act on.
Understanding the conditions that support differentiated instruction-an effective differentiated instruction must be proactive such that when lessons are not producing results, the teacher should reflect and develop numerous avenues for students to succeed. Similarly, it has to use small and flexible learning groups that are created based on the needs of each student. The instruction should make use of a wide range of materials to address particular learning needs. Moreover, it must account for the differences among learners and make use of flexible pacing. Finally, it has to be knowledge-centered with instructors who understand clearly what is important in the unit being studied (Tomlinson & Allan, 2000).
Knowing what to look out for- differentiated instruction exists when there is evidence of classroom flexibility, continuous assessment, flexible grouping of learners, respectful activities, and when learners and instructors work as collaborators in learning. For all these to achieved, there must be devoted teachers who are fully committed to make classroom work for everybody (Tomlinson, 2005).
Understanding the challenges– there is no doubt that differentiated instruction is challenging. As a result, to offer relevant and effective professional development and support to teachers, instructional leaders must consider the various challenges of instructional design. Firstly, teachers rarely differentiate instruction for ELLSs. Secondly, a small number of teachers offer their instruction in socially and culturally sensitive ways. Thirdly, when teachers differentiate instruction, they normally do so in a reactive rather than a proactive manner. Finally, a small number of pre-service teacher training programs prepare fresh teachers to effectively plan for instruction of academically diverse students (National Staff Development Council, 2001).
Understanding Change- high level professional development can be very important for change in a school. That notwithstanding, there are several considerations that the school leadership must focus on before implementing successful professional development. Complete understanding of ‘change’ can be important in planning and supporting the implementation of realistic and efficient professional development for instructors to learn about differentiated instruction (Fullan & Steigelbauer, l991).
Key Players Involved
The major stakeholders whose input and support are required to achieve differentiated instruction in the teaching of English as second language learners include the school administration, students, parents, and teaching staff.
The School administration- the school is headed by the principal who offers vision and effective leadership to the institution. The principal’s conduct must demonstrate support and understanding of differentiated learning. As the school head, the principal must take into account the needs of the teaching staff when implementing the rules. The principal must appreciate that professional development binds the school together. The school administration should also ensure the goal of achieving differentiated instruction is shared by all staff members, and that sufficient resources are availed to the teachers. In addition, a high quality curriculum should be developed and implemented, and the best teachers employed.
The teaching staff– teachers are the most important stakeholders in the implementation of differentiated instruction. According to Tomlinson (2005), differentiation can offer guidance to instructors on how they can teach the same concept to different students by using numerous learning and teaching techniques. In the case of English teaching, a teacher can allow the students to actively participate in the lesson and encourage them to physically interact with their learning environment. A teacher is responsible for guiding the students to develop their individual understanding of the subject matter, and also motivate them to maximize their learning process. The teacher should also accord the learners sufficient time to reflect and communicate what they have learnt and what they have comprehended.
Parents and guardians– getting the support of parents and guardians is one of the most challenging tasks for a teacher. Despite the challenge, it is not possible to achieve a properly managed classroom in the absence of parent and guardian involvement. This is particularly true for a differentiated classroom where learners are taught similar things but in different ways. Parents have to be informed of what their children are doing, and why the approach is different from that of other students in the same classroom. Parents also like to be informed on how their children are doing by seeing their children`s progress. This applies to parents of English language learners. However, there is likelihood that these parents may not be eloquent in English, and as a result may require translators to allow effective communication. The parents are entitled to know how their children are faring, particularly when it is good news. Parents also have a responsibility to motivate their children by speaking to them in English in their daily interactions at home to enhance their understanding of the English language.
Learners- students are collaborators in their own growth with regard to class performance. As a result, students should be responsible for their learning process. They should formulate high but realistic goals for themselves while making decisions that enhance their learning process. Students should work with other stakeholders that include parents and teachers in setting achievable goals, monitoring their progress, and evaluating their successes. Based on Birmingham learning grid, learners differ in terms of their level of intelligence (McKeown, 2004). Students with linguistic intelligence are often smart in terms of words, and more likely to perform well in English because they like talking, reading, and writing.
Objectives, Assessments, Strategies, and Implementation
The objectives for implementing a professional development plan for differentiated instruction are mainly centered on improving education. The first objective is harmonizing the learning environment by making it conducive to all learners regardless of their gender, racial and cultural background, learning profile or interests. The atmosphere of the classroom should be inviting to the learners and be conducive for learning. The second objective is the diversification of teaching techniques. Teachers should appreciate the fact that each student has unique learning needs; as a result, no single teaching approach fits all. The most important thing is that although the teaching method may vary from one student to the other, the concepts taught must always be the same. The third objective is to attract learners` interest in learning. Old teaching approaches have always focused on one-style that suits all approaches. This tends to discourage the learners. Given that students differ in terms of intelligence, every student should be given the opportunity to actively participate in class work, with specialized tutorials given to those learners who are slow in learning, while sharp learners should be challenged with more demanding content. The last objective is to attain uniformity of purpose. The development plan seeks to pool the efforts of all stakeholders involved in ensuring that the students` grades in English improve for the better, particularly for those students that are slow in their learning.
Assessments involve critically analyzing the problem statement with the goal of planning on how to execute the professional development plan. Drawing information from the present situation at the school can help in assessing the areas that the students have already grasped. This will ensure that any amendments done are free of repetitions that will save on both time and costs, and ensure the development plan is highly effective. The objective of the assessment is to unearth the learners` knowledge, interests, skills, preferences, and understanding before implementing a differentiated instruction (Gregory & Burkman, 2012). It should also be used to improve the student`s understanding and allow their progress to be monitored.
There are various strategies that teachers can employ to create an inviting and engaging classroom environment for learners. These strategies work with the support of the curriculum, while ensuring that the subject matter being taught is customized to suit the interests, readiness, and learning profiles of the individual students. Some of the most important strategies include:
The first strategy is the use of high-order questions. Through this strategy, a teacher tests a student`s knowledge to determine his/her understanding of the subject matter. This strategy enables the teacher to identify areas where weaknesses exist in the syllabus. The second strategy is the use of management plans or contracts. This takes the form of written agreement between the learner and the teacher. The teacher specifies particular assignment specifics that the students should achieve. On the other hand, the students agree that they will complete the assigned work based on the prescribed specifications. This strategy ensures that the students learn based on a particular standard. The third strategy is the use of tiered Assignments.Using this strategy, the teachers teach the students the same skills or concepts, but using different processes, content, product, and environment in a manner that builds on the past knowledge the students have already acquired while promoting their growth (Schlemmer, Schlemmer & Bratsch, 2008).
The next strategy is curriculum compacting, which entails assessing what the students already know on the material that is about to be taught. Secondly, after the unknowns are identified, the teacher prepares the students to learn the unknown. The final step in curriculum compacting is creating free time for a quicker supplementary study (Reis & Renzulli, 2005). The final strategy is grouping. This involves setting up small independent groups that allow the students to exchange ideas amongst themselves. The group members should be changed at regular intervals to have different perspectives and experiences, and enhance their understanding of topics discussed. The groups are created based on the needs of the students. Students with same needs are grouped together. Through these groups, teachers can provide alternative assessments activities that challenge the students based on their interests, readiness, and learning preferences. An additional strategy that is closely linked to groups is flexible grouping (Schlemmer, Schlemmer & Bratsch, 2008). This allows for flexible movement of group members between and among groups, depending on their readiness in a particular skill or subject matter. The groups vary not only in terms of size, but also in terms of membership selection and duration of existence. In these groups, students should be provided with all the necessary materials that include technology (Gregory, 2008). Most importantly, teachers should ensure that the questioning techniques, strategies, and instructional models used are effective, and that the students are assessed after every lesson.
Implementation requires the involvement of all school stakeholders, which includes the school administration, the teaching staff, students, parents, and guardians. This will ensure a successful development plan is attained that will introduce and sustain differentiated instruction, and enhance the learning experience for students. Implementation entails developing a good learning environment, having better understanding of the students through interacting with them, and assessing the students in terms of their performance, growth, and understanding. It also entails making necessary adjustments for individuals as well as groups to ensure that the curriculum caters for all students and no learner is left behind (Tomlinson & Strickland, 2005).
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