Monday, April 25, 2016

Why Technology is Key to Differentiation

Hi, Teachers! Today you will be hearing from my friend Talia over at Front Row! She wrote a really cool guest post about differentiating with technology. Enjoy!


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When I was still in the classroom, I tried to differentiate for my students as often as I could. My students were in 11th and 12th grade, so while some of them were at an AP/pre-college level, other students were recent immigrants and read English at a middle school level. I didn’t know which way to teach: should I cater to my struggling students and make the class level easier overall, or should I push my higher-level students and get them prepared for the AP classes and college courses that awaited them? I had no choice: I needed to differentiate. I cared too much about my students not to. 

Unfortunately for me, my differentiation tactics became quite intricate. For every unit exam, the majority of our weekly quizzes and even some in-class assignments, I had 3 different levels of content that kids could choose from -- ‘purple’ for the highest-level students, ‘green’ for the students who needed more scaffolding, and ‘blue’ for students in between. Thus, it’s with a lot of jealousy that I look at today’s education landscape and recognize how many more opportunities exist for teachers to accomplish the same level of differentiation, with just a fraction of the work. All these strategies are grounded in technology, which seems to have blasted open opportunities for teachers to differentiate meaningfully in their classrooms. Here’s how:

1. Differentiating Instruction

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Instruction may be the hardest area for teachers to differentiate, since providing personalized instruction to 20+ students is no small task. And while differentiated instruction certainly becomes easier with older students (who become more self-aware of how to select materials to fill in their knowledge gaps), I still believe it’s possible at younger grades. For example, you can introduce your students to concepts by giving them a host of videos -- Khan Academy, Brainpop, Edpuzzle are great tools to use -- and letting them choose which ones to watch. Or, with inquiry-based lessons like the ones offered by Front Row, students -- regardless of their background knowledge -- can work collaboratively to reach a high conceptual understanding of mathematical concepts. By working in groups, students fill in gaps in knowledge for one another, instead of the teacher having to do this for each student.

2. Differentiating Practice

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Independent practice is the area where I’ve seen most teachers differentiating. I’ve seen some teachers give students a choice with which math products they want to practice (ex: Front Row, TenMarks, MobyMax). With tools like Front Row, the practice is automatically differentiated for teachers, since the program tailors both math and reading content to the strengths and challenges of each individual student.

3. Differentiating Assessment

Assessment is another area in which technology can make things drastically easier for teachers. In my classroom, I effectively designed assessments that related to different learning standards: one that would be focused on easier skills, and one that would be focused on higher-level skills. This consumed hours upon hours of my time. Tools like Front Row allow you to give out different assessments to different groups of students, and automatically tailor your assessment to their needs. For example, if you know you need to review 2nd grade math skills with some struggling students in your 3rd grade class, you can assess those students on 2nd grade standards on Front Row. Similarly, if you allow your gifted students to practice more advanced standards but still want to hold them accountable, you can assess them on 4th or 5th grade standards and see what they mastered.

Whether it be through instruction, practice, or assessments, technology has made it easy for teachers to differentiate for each of the students in their class with the simple click of a button. Though technology isn’t perfect and hasn’t solved many challenges that teachers typically face, differentiation is one area that has greatly benefitted from its use. I hope these different tactics and tools are helpful for making your classroom an inclusive, supportive environment for all learners!





Talia Arbit is currently the Community and Growth Manager at Front Row Education. She previously taught high school science in San Jose, California and also served as the science department chair at her school. Following her time in the classroom, Talia transitioned into the EdTech sector, where she works with teachers to implement more technology into their classrooms.






Want to guest post on my blog? Send me an email at awordonthird@gmail.com and let's chat! 

1 comment:

  1. Hi!
    I was reaching out to you because I see that you're a NJ TpTer =)

    We're hosting our 1st Annual NY/NJ TpT Mini-Meet and I was hoping you might be interested in attending. You can get more info from my blog:
    http://teachersloungespot.blogspot.com/2016/04/tpt-mini-meet-new-yorknew-jersey.html

    or just complete this google form:
    https://docs.google.com/forms/u/0/d/1fAl5Jh21aA8iRGRptoUsbfE6EoVOcu-BGzuleRjbJLQ/edit

    Hope to see you there!

    ReplyDelete