Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Module 5: differentiating instruction

This module has helped me think about self-directed learners and the role of differentiation in the following ways…

This is another module I have a very personal connection with. As a child, I was the gifted, self-directed learner. School was not a challenge. Most of the time, I was bored. A few teachers, once I was beyond elementary school, took the time to give me more in-depth work. In one class, my junior year of high school,  the teacher realized I was so far beyond what the rest of the class was doing, he handed the book and a list of topics he wanted me to study. I got to choose how I presented the information to him, but essentially, I was on my own. I completed all the work for the class the first month of school   and turned in the work when it was due. The remaining time I spent in the library reading.  I am not sure if the teacher accomplished what he wanted. For me, it was a waste of my time, and knowing what I do now, certainly not a good example of differentiating instruction!

Beyond my educational experiences as a student, as a mother of six children, I have observed them navigating experiences covered in this module.

My oldest child is 17 and is considered a 2E or Twice Exceptional child. He has a very high IQ and Autism Spectrum Disorder.  This presents special challenges in the classroom. While he can do the work, he lacks organizational skills and the ability to work well in groups. He may or may not remember to turn in homework. He also has difficulty in hand writing assignments.

This puts me at a bit of an advantage in coming up with ideas for differentiating instruction for kids on the spectrum. Once my child hit high school, we had a wonderful IEP team, and have spent many hours coming up with ideas to help him achieve in a classroom setting. We've done everything from verbal and visual cues to help with behavior to essentially micromanaging projects to using a SmartPhone as make-shift adaptive technology.  Group work often proves challenging for children on the spectrum because they do not understand the group dynamic. My son in particular often comes up with overly ambitious project ideas or wishes to research obscure topics that aren't quite what the teacher is looking for. Kids like him definitely need more monitoring.

Of my other children, three of them have been tested and two identified as highly gifted. Children like this present another challenge for teachers that project based learning can help overcome. Gifted children can really go as in depth as they want. The challenge comes in how to fairly evaluate the gifted child. Do you grade the child compared to the other children in the class or based on what you know the child is capable of doing? My children attend magnet schools, which means the other children in their classes are on par with them academically, and as a result, they are all graded on level with their peers.

Still, this hasn't spared them from academic difficulty. Children who are gifted may appear lagging academically because they are not interest in the material. Or, as in my oldest son's case, become behavior problems because they are not being academically challenges. For example, in  second grade he was constantly acting up in class because he had mastered the materials. His teacher was asking him to read early reader books in class and he was reading Harry Potter at home. eac

My youngest son suffered a traumatic brain injury at 18 months old. Thankfully, only the speech portion of his brain was impacted long-term. He spent many years in speech therapy. His speech difficulties made him reluctant to speak up in class and giving oral reports were a challenge for him. It opened the door for bullying and teasing. His teachers allowed him to do his reports away from the front of the class.

My mother is hearing impaired and went through school "mainstreamed." I also have a niece who is deaf. She attended public school and before she lost all of her hearing, her teachers wore a mic and she had a receiver. Later, she had an interpreter.

All of these wonderful people in my life have given me a very unique perspective on the benefits of differentiating instruction.

Differentiating instructions for ELL students is also very important. I plan to provide my ELL students with vocabulary words in English and in their native languages. It also wouldn't hurt to have  novels available in other languages, but that probably isn't financially realistic for most school systems. My Spanish isn't strong enough to talk to parents without an interpreter, but it's enough that I can express the basics.

Module 5: Student Assessment

This module has helped me think about student-centered assessment in the following ways...

When I was a high school student, it felt like teacher grading was very arbitrary and inconsistent. If there were rubrics for grading, I don't remember ever seeing them! I was very fortunate, however, that I consistently met the teachers' standards, whatever they were.

Even in my undergraduate education, it seemed there was little rhyme or reason to the grading. I remember one professor in particular that seemed to just "give" grades. It didn't matter what I did on my assignments, my grade was always 88 percent. I had no idea what I needed to do to improve and really no idea what I was doing correct, either. This professor taught a sequence of public relations classes and my final grade was that dreaded 88 percent. 

As a prospective teacher, clear grading is very important to me precisely because I've had so many unclear expectations. 

When a student knows exactly what's expected, the student can take more control of the grade. It is a clear cause and effect situation. You put in X amount of effort, you get Y results. 

This also takes away any confusion on teacher expectations.

Making the assessment all about what the student DOES and not what the teacher WANTS is an important distinction. A good assessment will show students what they did correctly and what they need to work on.

A good rubric has very clear language. "Student uses good grammar most of the time" is very vague. What does "most of the time" really mean? A better option would be: "Student has 1-4 grammar errors." 

This information should also be given to students prior to completing the assignment. The guidelines must be clear.

I have heard many teachers say "I do not give grades, students earn them." This is what a student centered-assessment is supposed to facilitate. 

I am also very glad there are tools to help create rubrics. One teacher I spoke with recently said he hated making rubrics because they took so much time. But, this teacher isn't very tech savvy and didn't know about websites like Rubistar or iRubric or Rubrics4Teachers.