Teacher Inquiry Project - Differentiated Instruction

Using DI

How I Can Make Greater Use of Differentiated Instruction
The incoming computer class filled out a survey at the end of the school year (Appendix A) so that I could gauge the range of knowledge, skills and interests prior to class in September. At the beginning of the school year, I will offer students who claim prior knowledge of the skills being learned a pre-test to determine whether I can allow them to compact the unit (a term that I learned through my research), or bypass it completely.

Based on my prior knowledge of the computer class and the results of the survey, I now have an indication of the range of skills and interests of the in-coming students. This will give me a starting point for creating differentiation. For example, the results of the student survey revealed that most of the students enjoy surfing on the internet, listening to music and would like to be able to build a web-site. I could incorporate these features into my lesson plans.

There are many lesson plans and strategies on differentiated instruction available in books and on web-sites. Different resources base their strategies on accommodating students with different learning styles (kinesthetic, auditory, visual) or by taking into account what is known about the adolescent brain and their interests. One system of differentiated instruction that has gained a following is the Layered Curriculum, which structures a differentiated curriculum into three levels. The first level is achieved when students gain basic knowledge of their subject; the second level is where that knowledge is applied and the third level where students are encouraged to think critically about the new information. Each level can be differentiated with a variety of activities that can appeal to a student's learning style, ability and interest

There are so many ways in which differentiation can be approached that it can be a daunting task to begin the process. Taking into consideration the variety of ways that instruction can be differentiated, it would be useful to consider different approaches. I have prepared a chart that can help structure the differentiated activities (Appendix C). Each unit is broken down into expectations, and then consideration would be given to how the content, process and product could be differentiated. Each of these groups, could be further divided by different learning styles.

Grading and differentiated Instruction
Another consideration that needs to be looked at when discussing differentiated instruction is how to grade students when students are all engaged in different activities. One key point is that "grading is not a synonym for assessment (Tomlinson, 2005). Formative assessment should be ongoing during activities as a way to provide feedback to students. At the end of a period of instruction, grades are given with certain considerations in mind: they should be aligned to the expectations and outcomes for the curriculum and they should measure the students' acquisition and application of knowledge. Teachers should minimize factors that might affect the score, such as a student's poor handwriting complicating his ability to provide written work. The whole rationale for differentiation is for teachers to provide alternative ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge; if a student is able to pick an activity that can provide a way for him to demonstrate his ability, his grade should reflect his accomplishment.

When a Student has Prior Computer Knowledge
One of the unique challenges of the high-school computer curriculum is that computer instruction is skill based. Many students are now receiving computer instruction at the primary or middle-school levels, and many students have access to computers at home and learn skills on their own. More and more students are coming in to class with prior knowledge. To be prepared for this, I need to be able to offer not only differentiation, but a curriculum that offers enrichment and even alternative activities that offer modification to the existing basic expectations. I could use a chart that lists the skills that are required and a suggested enrichment or alternative activity if the student already knows the basic material. (Appendix D). An example of an entry would be:

Alternative Acitivity

Word & paragraph formatting in Word

Helping another student learn this skill

Using this skill and others as part of an independent project

Learning to program the computer

Problems Encountered during Inquiry
There is a large body of research on Differentiated Instruction, however I was not able to locate research, lesson plans or strategies specific to a high-school computer classroom. An interesting roadblock that I encountered while trying to research my inquiry question is that there is much emphasis on USING computer technology in a differentiated classroom, not on actually using differentiated instruction to teach computer class content.

Another difficulty I encountered was in the varied terminology of "differentiated instruction" and its relationship to other subjects such as learning styles, multiple intelligence and the specific needs of LD and gifted students. It is difficult to stay focused on the inquiry, when there are so many interesting related areas.

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