Differentiating Instruction

P2: Practice differentiated instruction. A teacher who differentiates instruction understands that homogeneity does not exist within any classroom and thus he or she provides instruction that addresses the diverse needs of students “when planning and delivering rigorous and relevant, yet flexible and response instruction” (Broderick, Mehta-Parekh & Reid, 2005, p. 196). One way I tried to differentiate instruction during my internship was to integrate a variety of learning styles, giving students choices, mixing up the structure of my lessons, and creating opportunities for students to learn and respond to material in different ways. Practicing these aspects of differentiated instruction kept me from favoring a dominant culture or learning styles, engaging my students and motivating them to excel in areas of strength and familiarity while challenging them in areas of weakness or uncertainty. When designing and teaching a unit on the Shakespearean tragedy Othello, I did my best to honor personal development through learner-centered approaches, recognizing that students do not learn the same material in the same ways.

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As we studied the play, I tried to incorporate activities that catered to a variety of learning styles: we listened to audio recording and followed along in the text, students read the text aloud, we watched scenes from a film version of the tragedy, students read and acted out scenes, then some students read while different students acted, we analyzed soliloquys for rhetorical effectiveness and we practiced interpreting and summarizing difficult passages. Throughout the unit, I performed a variety of informal assessments to evaluate the effectiveness of the different learning activities and at times would allow students to choose how we would study the text for a particular scene. Moving forward, I will continue to plan lessons and curriculum that honors the diverse ways in which students learn by differentiating instruction. It was really interesting to see what learning styles were most successful in each class and to make adjustments based on the student feedback I received regarding how students felt they learned best. They were good sports as we experimented with different learning styles and activities. Many students enjoyed the variety of learning approaches as well as the opportunity to provide input based on their own needs and as a result it was not only a valuable learning experience for the students, but also for me as well.

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Meta-Reflection

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When I look back on this quarter and all that I have learned in EDU 6526: Survey of Instructional Strategies and as I begin to develop my own educational philosophy, this quote from longtime Harvard University professor and distinguished twentieth-century educational psychologist, Jerome Bruner, comes to mind: “We need a surer sense of what to teach to whom and how to go about teaching it in such a way that it will make those taught more effective, less alienated, and better human beings” (Bruner, 1996, p. 118). Knowing who a student is, his or her background, interests, abilities, learning styles, etc. will be essential to tailoring a classroom that challenges, inspires, and provides for specific needs while keeping students engaged and motivated. As a high school English teacher, there are many elements I will need to juggle, but my hope and my goal is to facilitate social growth, moral development and academic success.

One instructional strategy for promoting both academic achievement as well as social development is constructivist learning. Knowledge cannot be constructed alone, but rather is received and experienced in collaboration. John Dewey believes the school is “primarily a social institution,” a concentrated form of community life, a vessel for social progress and this constructivist ideology centers on unity and cooperative learning while still maintaining an emphasis on individual accountability (Dewey, 1897). Within the classroom, cooperative learning operates under the philosophy that isolation limits understanding. Working as members of a group or team allows students opportunities to navigate different social dynamics while learning from one another. This interaction benefits not only cognitive learning, but also the building of social skills. My hope is that collaborating and working together affirms the value and contributions of others while also affirming one’s sense of being valued by others.

And while constructivist and collaborative learning has its place and value, Howard Gardner, the Father of Multiple Intelligences reminds educators that students do not learn the same material in the same ways, so teachers need to understand and incorporate the different and distinctive ways in which students learn (Edwards p.1). Edwards suggests that in order to promote the success and learning of all students, it is important to cater to students’ strengths while also challenging them in areas they may be unfamiliar. An educator needs to integrate these learning styles: Visual-Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Linguistic, and Logical-Mathematical (Edwards, p. 1). In addition to incorporating multiple learning styles to promote academic achievement in my English classroom, I intend to implement many instructional strategies to encourage moral development so that my students may grow up to be sensitive, culturally competent and contributing citizens.

C.S. Lewis writes about morality and the influence of literature: “without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism” (Kirk, 1987, pg. 1). Lewis writes about how unrealistic it is to expect American youth to grow up to be moral, self-controlled citizens if we are not promoting and teaching those virtues. Just as one would not expect daisies to grow without first planting those specific seeds, fertilizing and watering them, so Lewis explains how illogical it is to expect a virtuous generation without laying and fostering the proper foundation.

Consciously selecting literature that provides opportunities for discussion and promotes the development of personal judgments about virtues is a great, subject-specific way of laying a moral foundation. Displaying pertinent and meaningful quotes about virtuous behaviors and attitudes in the classroom is a way of daily reminding and reinforcing valuable aspects of character development. And finally, clearly defining and holding students accountable to classroom expectations such as respect and fairness, as well as engaging students in conversation about virtuous behaviors and attitudes in everyday life are proactive approaches to promoting citizenship and moral education

With Jerome Bruner’s words at the forefront of my teaching philosophy, it is my hope that all students will leave my classroom competent, with increased academic knowledge and belief in their personal potential, feeling heard, understood and valued, confident in their ability to contribute and interact with others. Achieving these goals will be a trial and error process, an education in itself, but I am looking forward to employing the many skills and strategies I have acquired this quarter.

Resources:

Bruner, J.S. (1966).  “Some Elements of Discovery”. In L.S. Shulman & E.R. Keislar (Eds.), Learning by discovery: A critical appraisal.  Chicago: Rand McNally College Publishing Company, p. 118.

Dewey, J. (1897). “My Pedagogic Creed,” The School Journal, 54, (3), pp. 77-80.

EDU 6526: Instructional Strategies worksheet “An Interview with Howard Gardner, Father of Multiple Intelligence” by Own Edwards

EDU 6526: Instructional Strategies worksheet “Can Virtue Be Taught?” by Russell Kirk. Adapted from The Wise Men Know What Wicked Things are Written in the Sky (1987).

Image retrieved on March 3, 2013 from: http://www.bookfrontiers.com/library-wanderings.php

Instructional Strategies and Learning Styles

learning-stylesEach student we will encounter is undoubtedly unique, varying in countless ways, not least of which are personalities, emotions, and learning styles. With this in mind, educators must understand, that students do not learn the same material in the same ways, nor does a uniform way of measuring student learning exist. Taking all of this into account, teachers need to understand and incorporate the different and distinctive ways in which students learn.

According to an interview with Howard Gardner, the Father of Multiple Intelligences, by Owen Edwards, “the broad spectrum of students – and perhaps the society as a whole – would be better served if disciplines could be presented in a number of ways and learning could be assessed through a variety of means” (Edwards, p. 1). Edwards suggests that in order to promote the success and learning of all students, an educator needs to incorporate the learning styles: Visual-Spatial—includes drawing, verbal and physical imagery like charts and graphs, Bodily-Kinesthetic—includes physical activity and hands on learning like acting out and making things, Musical—related to sensitivity to sounds, rhythm, and musical media, Interpersonal- related to understanding and interacting with others such as group activities and dialogue, Intrapersonal—related to understanding one’s own interests and goals such as through reflection and independent study, Linguistic—related to the effective use of words and is a way of connecting to students with highly developed auditory skills through reading, playing word games, and writing stories or poetry, Logical-Mathematical—relates to conceptual and abstract thinking for students who like to experiment, explore questions, and solve puzzles (Edwards, p. 1).

Knowing who one’s students are and what they need is an essential and challenging aspect of teaching in the classroom. While planning and implementing activities and lesson plans that cater to the different learning styles of students seems daunting, the curriculum and teaching techniques must evolve just as students grow and change. According to Gardner’s philosophy, while students are young, promoting a more well-roundedness of education in the classroom may be perfectly appropriate, but as students grow older, “it becomes more important to discover and cultivate areas of strength” (Edwards, p. 2). Gardner believes “livelihood and happiness are more likely to emerge” if educators focus and cultivate the strengths and learning styles of older students (Edwards, p. 2). This is the challenge of every educator, to help students develop areas of understanding and knowledge as well as skills and values that encourage pride in livelihood and positive contribution.

Resource: EDU 6526 Instructional Strategies worksheet “An Interview with Howard Gardner, Father of Multiple Intelligence” by Own Edwards

Image retrieved on February 24, 2013 from: http://www.speak-simple.com/2012/12/