2. Instruction– The teacher uses research-based instructional practices to meet the needs of all students.
2.2 Engaging Students in Learning
Most activities and assignments are appropriate to students, and almost all students are cognitively engaged in exploring content.
3. Differentiation – The teacher acquires and uses specific knowledge about students’ cultural, individual intellectual and social development and uses that knowledge to adjust their practice by employing strategies that advance student learning.
3.3 Demonstrating Flexibility and Responsiveness in Persisting to Support Students
Teacher persists in seeking approaches for students who have difficulty learning, drawing on a broad repertoire of strategies.
When researching and planning activities that are engaging to the majority of students while also providing diverse opportunities for students to explore their learning, it is essential for the educator to utilize a variety of learning opportunities. This gives students the opportunity for a broad exploration of their learning. Utilizing technology in the classroom is another method of providing differentiated exploration to students. Moreover, one must also consider that if technology takes money away from the core mission of the school, it might not be such a good thing (Scheuerman, 2016). For example, perhaps there isn’t enough funding available to provide supplies in other areas if there is high investment in electronic equipment. Or perhaps some students come from low-income backgrounds and don’t have access to computers and Internet to complete unfinished work at home. Yet on the contrary, in many situations, utilization of technology can also enable educators to integrate more differentiation in their instruction. Many students can benefit from spending one class period a week working on digital math games or designing presentations utilizing graphics software and/or presentation applications. After all, these activities do connect to practices that are utilized by professionals in the adult world. Also, the amount of technological resources that are available is unimaginable.
One example of a program that is utilized a lot in schools is DreamBox, an online software application that is currently being used by students in the district that I work in. This is a platform that aligns with Common Core Learning Standards and is designed to integrate learning to the individual. While students should be provided a variety of diverse learning activities, allowing some time with digital applications provides a modern, natural learning application that provides teachers with data in regard to their individualized learning abilities. This allows students time to explore mathematics through making individualized choices of scaffolded computer games. Teachers have more time to circulate and multitask as students are interacting with these games.
How practical is this? Rather than try to satisfy others, it is best to meet the needs of your students and have confidence that their exploration during learning creates learning experiences that are more memorable. This method of teaching less and allowing more time experiencing learning can be accomplished by providing diverse learning opportunities. Figures 1 and 2 highlight the DreamBox example mentioned above, an interactive digital experience that allows students to learn through gaming.
One example of choice is these map interfaces where students can move a character to a different section to explore new mathematics games. They have a variety of options to choose from and are rewarded by completing levels or zones by receiving tokens, moving on to new maps, etc.
Once a section is chosen, students can play individual games and are assessed on their outcomes. I’ve witnessed this in a Kindergarten class where students were at a variety of learning levels; every student in the class was engaged in their learning activity. While this is a once per week activity, they all utilize these skills on other activities throughout the week.
Noting all of this, I agree with the concept of teaching less, as documented by Scheurerman (2016):
The speed of learning is not the same as depth of learning; likewise rate is different from level. Remember Aesop’s tortoise and Rosseau’s aphorism, “Teach less, and teach well.” Therefore, consider:
- Be sure to identify the key ideas for whatever you set out to teach.
- Do not try to cover too much material at one time.
- Allow time for productive student conversation and reflection on the key ideas.
- Provide opportunity for applications of ideas to emphasize the practical, aesthetic, and intellectual implications (p. 1).
I don’t agree with utilizing technology in all aspects of the classroom but appreciate the use of this as another resource. While DreamBox is one example of a method that can be utilized in the classroom, there are hundreds of other technological tools and resources available to educators. Some of these resources are available based on budgetary restraints while others, such as utilizing smart phones, Smart Boards, projectors, document cameras, Google docs, etc. can also provide many creative outlets for educators.
In closing, there are some drawbacks to utilizing technology in the classroom, especially from a budgetary standpoint. If technology is utilized as another resource or classroom tool, the creative teacher can find ways to integrate it into their classroom activities to engage more learners. This helps reinforce that those students that are inspired by these activities are also engaged in learning. This also may allow more time for exploration and less time for teaching information.
DreamBox Learning. (2016). [Illustration from DreamBox marketing video]. Why DreamBox? Retrieved from http://www.dreambox.com/why-dreambox
Scheuerman, R. (2016). Session IX: Technology and community and arts methods II [PDF document]. Retrieved from Lecture Notes Online Web site: https://mountainlightschool.wordpress.com/mat/edu-6363/