Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Differentiated Instruction (DI)

The schools I serve as a special education consultant are gradually training and implementing DI. I have heard this called the low tech version of Universal Design for Learning, and I will discuss that more later.

I can't begin to count the number of times teachers have told me that many of the accommodations for the student with special education needs would be beneficial to several students in their class. DI is a way to allow all students (low, middle , and high achieving) to learn, work together, and demonstrate their learning in varieties of ways that take their strengths, learning styles, and interests into account. The classroom of "typical" students is full of diversity in those 3 areas, and helping students understand how to use talents and improve skills helps them participate in and take responsibility for their learning. Teachers become facilitators, which looks to the observer like less work, but it is more until you develop a repertoire of ideas to pull from.

Here is one idea that works for a variety of ages and content areas. The Jigsaw Puzzle establishes learning groups about a specific topic. Everyone is assigned an area of expertise within that topic. Each area of expertise meets first in their expert groups which consists of those assigned to be the expert for that topic from their learning group. After reading a variety of materials (provided by teacher and/or researched by students) and discussing information, they will feel they understand well and can explain their area of expertise to their learning group. When they return to their learning group, everyone takes a few minutes to share with the group what they have learned and they discuss how each component of information fits together. Trivia and other formats of competition can then be used for review.
For younger students, give everyone in the learning group a different colored puzzle piece. The same colors will get together to become experts, and then return to their group to put the pieces together.
DI, done right, builds independence, group skills, and confidence. Respecting every one's differences in strengths, learning styles, and interests helps us to be more aware and accepting of our own.

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