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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Using Technology to Make Instruction More Relevant and Accessible

P4:Practice the integration of appropriate technology with instruction. Integrating technology appropriately means using technology to engage students, provide authentic learning opportunities, and to enhance and deepen student understanding. Technology has become such an integral part of students’ lives. For example, although my high school has a pretty lenient cell-phone policy, rare are the days I conclude a lesson without having had to ask a student to put away his or her cell phone. Consequently, I often feel like technology is my adversary, a catalyst for distraction and disruption. Still, I am trying to reimagine my perspective of technology and consider ways I can use technology to support instruction rather than distract from it. This is a reflection is evidence of a time during my internship in which I used technology to bridge gaps between students and content in order to increase student interest and make learning relevant and interesting.

When I told my sophomore students that we were going to begin a unit on Shakespeare’s Othello, there were many moans and groans. I asked students why and they said Shakespeare’s language was too difficult, confusing and hard to understand. A fellow student teacher and I racked our brains to create a gateway lesson using technology that would encourage students to see the lyricism and themes of Othello through the lens of hip-hop in effort to show students that the language Shakespeare uses is not something they have to be afraid of—we decided to try to provide a new perspective. We created and projected a Prezi to create visual interest and organization for the lesson, we watched a Ted Talk presentation, we listened to rap and hip-hop, we evaluated lyrics and connected those to themes all in effort to make Shakespeare language more approachable and relevant. During the Ted Talk video, students are asked to differentiate between hip-hop lyrics from popular artists and lines from Shakespearean plays making Shakespearean language more accessible by exposing the lyrical quality inherent in hip-hop, and iambic pentameter is compared to the rhythm of popular hip-hop beats by rapping popular lines from Shakespeare. I paused the video frequently and had students vote whether certain lines spoken were from hip-hop or Shakespeare and students were surprised to see that it was difficult to differentiate between the two.

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Also, as a class, we looked at an online article from The Atlantic comparing modern hip-hop and rap artists to Shakespeare based on the number of unique words used within their respective works. We discussed the implications and why some artists might forgo lyricism and “the imparting of knowledge” in order to sell albums. Then, we listened to specific lyrics of such artists by way of the internet, and analyzed the lyrics for themes common in hip-hop. According to a New York Times article, “Under the Influence of…Music?” from 2008, teenagers spend an average of 2.5 hours a day listening to music and so we had students make a list of common themes found in the music they listen to, then we connected those to Shakespeare in order to explain that Shakespeare uses lyricism as a social commentary just as does hip-hop.

This lesson employed a variety of technologies and mediums that not only engaged students, but also gave them a context with which to connect to Shakespeare. Through the use of technology, we established connections (that might otherwise have been impossible) between their world and the world of Shakespeare. As a result, students found the classic works of this English playwright to be less daunting, abstract and removed. Although employing the use of technology does not come naturally, after seeing students interested and excited about Shakespeare as a result of this lesson, I will continue to strive to incorporate and experiment with technology as a teaching tool to make learning more relevant and interesting for all learners.