Differ (Brent Fleisher)

One source that stood out to me on the internet was 100+ Tools for Differentiation (https://www.edutopia.org/blog/differentiated-instruction-social-media-tools-john-mccarthy).  Via Google, I typed in “differentiation for online instruction,” and this website was near the top of the list.  I decided to stick with this one as it seems to focus on differentiation via Social Media — something we seem to be incorporating through this class via Blogs and Twitter.  Just as in face-to-face, differentiation through social media begins with “content, process, and product” and carries through with “readiness, interests, and learning profile.”  Again, trying to find a nice balance between student voice/participation and lesson structure/format (content).   Readiness focuses on “current student academic level,” Interests allows ” students to tackle work based on the option that makes the most sense to them is crucial for cognitive connections,” and Learning Profiles allows students to ” address concepts from diverse perspectives, especially in collaborative groups, it can lead to in-depth understanding.”

To be honest, I don’t really know much about differentiation in the face-to-face classroom… I have not really had to “use” it since I teach upper-level students who seem to all be on the same page.  I am also under the belief (impression) that at the upper grades (11 and 12) differentiation may be a hindrance to students as instruction may not be differentiated at the post-secondary level as well as not even thought about when it comes to the work force.  Instead of differentiating my instruction I push and challenge students to meet my expectations and constantly raise the bar.  While this is an extreme struggle at first, the rewards definitely pay off in the end with students realizing they are more capable than they initially thought…all without relying in differentiating instruction.

Thinking generally about differentiation, one similarity is that teachers work with a diverse group of students regardless of face-to-face or online.  Students come to us with a variety of backgrounds and baggage that will affect not only their learning and education but how we instruct them and form bonds with them (again, much harder to do online).  Scaffolding is another key concept to consider when it comes to differentiating instruction — just because a student signs up for an honors or AP class doesn’t mean that that student is actually and honors or AP student.  This is where I struggle with differentiation.  If you are signed up for my AP class then I am going to treat you like an AP student…  I should not (and do not) lower the bar because you (student) may a poor life choice to sign up for this class.  That sounds a lot harsher than it should… but, it’s something I struggle with.  Looking through my courses on Schoology, I guess I do differentiate kinda by offering online texts and audio versions of texts…but, I don’t know if that counts as the work is the same and the expectations are still there.   For online students who are practicing their independence and willingness to educate themselves on their own, is differentiation the best practice?

One glaring difference that still stands out to me is the communication and relationships students build with teachers and each other.  Online, students are not as easily accessible and ready to foster those relationships and, frankly, neither are the teachers.  There is also something to be said about having discussions face-to-face as this strengthens relationships as well allows participants to hear tone/inflection/etc in the person’s voice — something that is missing behind the computer screen.

Because I am not comfortable / at ease with differentiation I do not really know how I will incorporate it into my module.  I am thinking that since my module is geared towards an introductory unit–the information can be given in a variety of ways (youtube videos, online articles, excerpts from books, etc).  I could also set up an online discussion board where students collaborate and share ideas/thoughts on their readings.  Pictures are also “worth a thousand words” so students could have the opportunity to see visuals that go along with what they are reading.  Since I am also gearing this towards the Crucible and Salem Witch Trials, I can have links to performances of the play for further understanding.

4 thoughts on “Differ (Brent Fleisher)”

  1. Brent,
    I too think I will struggle with differentiation, as I have only honors students. I like your idea of an online discussion board for sharing ideas. For my module I think I will am going to have the students make and post videos of their laboratory results. I then hope I can get some student discussions going comparing the results between lab groups.

  2. I need to think carefully before I hit submit on my response to your post. As someone who has spent most of my career helping low level students, students that learn differently and the students who have a second (and third) backpack of life stressors I admit I felt rather pissed that you feel no need to differentiate. “I teach upper-level students who seem to all be on the same page.” I would respectfully challenge the notion of “same page”. Is it really the same page or is it that they are the nice compliant students (mostly white and middle class) that play the game of school well? The danger for these students is they spend so much of their time pleasing teachers that they don’t learn how to think for themselves. I know because I was one of them and I see my gifted, honor student, younger son becoming one.

    Why would honor students have no need for differentiation? What a disservice to them! Differentiation is not lowering the bar. It’s providing different ways to access information; engaging students in different ways; and different ways of showing understanding and mastery. By adding options and elements of Universal Design of Learning there are benefits for all students. Providing options could also allow all those students on the same page to find a page of their own.

  3. I think students are on the same page when it comes to their knowledge. You know me — I don’t really care if they can “play the game” or not. Being nice and polite and smiling pretty is great for the first 10 minutes…but after that, they better know something. If students want to please their teachers (me) than they need to do quality work. Turning in brownies in the shape of Rhode Island (with all the capitals mapped out in icing) isn’t going to get them any points or extra credit because that isn’t quality. Just do good work the first time. Too many students are able to not do quality work, yet continue on to the next level because they do “extra credit” instead of the research paper; or they are offered extra credit opportunities (that don’t go with the content at hand) to help raise their failing test grades. Unfortunately, we have teachers in the school (and every school system) who will allow this abomination to go on.

    I do struggle with the idea of differentiation. I read Kayla’s post and she mentioned offering students the opportunity to choose whether to watch a video on the material or read an article on it…whichever best fit their need/learning style. On one hand I get that. On the other, and this could be the English teacher in me, students have to be able to read… and have to be able to reading boring informational material. I would make the student do both the video and the reading. One would reinforce the other. For students who struggle with reading, the video would allow them to comprehend better, and then when they read the information they could have “V8” moment and remember where they saw that in the video. Vice-versa, it would work the same way.

    Through talking with other teachers, it could be that teachers don’t have time for differentiation. We’re already bogged down with all the other stuff outside of the classroom… and the thought of creating more than one lesson plan / activity for the same content could be tiresome. It would be interesting to read or hear about differentiation at the post-secondary level and what/if it goes on and what the thoughts are of the professors.

  4. “It would be interesting to read or hear about differentiation at the post-secondary level and what/if it goes on and what the thoughts are of the professors.”

    That’s a great question. I work in a School of Education, and in general, we work with pre-service teachers and others who are involved in education. Myself, and many of my peers, come from K-12 teaching. So, yes, we understand, acknowledge the importance, and attempt to differentiate instruction. We study teaching and learning, and ideally our research influences our teaching practice. Now, I can’t speak for other professors. I do know several others, and while most try to do their best to be effective educators, many have not had exposure to years of training in this area. My father-in-law taught on the Medical campus for many years, and I have heard he was a very good teacher. However, He had no formal training in teaching, as is the case with many professors in areas that are not education, so i would imagine he didn’t formally, at least, consider differentiation. I could be wrong though. I’ll ask next time we are together.

    I have also had some experience in the workforce, and in the places I have worked I do know that they do their best to assist their employees in learning. They have people who specialize in adult learning, and I believe do try to develop instruction that is effective, which often I would imagine includes considerations of differentiation.

    In this course, I always try to gauge where my learners are, and how best to work with each of them. I situate all of you in a new learning environment, one that is outside the walls of a formal LMS, and I attempt to engage you in several means of communication (rampages, social media, email). Aside from the readings I assign, i try to include video, and social media interactions. I try to encourage communications between participants, and I attempt to develop self-regulated learning practices, by having students find their own readings and develop materials that are useful for them. There have been students in the past, who really needed real-time conversation, and I spent hours on the phone with them. There are students who require varying levels of interaction on email, and some who require none.

    Not sure if that answers your question, but those are my experiences at least.

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