Differences in background, culture, religion. A variety of body shapes and sizes. Unique experiences and individual preferences. These are the things that make us interesting.
As educators, we laud the creative and personal differences that help to make up our respective schools and communities. Colleges vie for a diverse student body, offering grants and scholarships to those students that can bring something new or unusual to the table.
Although the institution of education seeks to support differences and enhance creativity, the constraints inherent in the public school system make this a difficult challenge. Text books are written at a particular grade level, tests are normed on certain skill sets, and performance is evaluated by comparing one student group against another.
Teachers are tasked to meet a particular educational goal, but also to differentiate the instruction along the way. We can get caught up in an “end justifies the means” mentality- anything to get to the benchmark – but this rarely seems to work.
Until I began experimenting with Social Media implementation, I never realized how little differentiating I was actually doing, or just how difficult I was making my job. Utilizing technology and media tools have become my secret formula for differentiated instruction. I can easily assign a project that is appropriate, interesting and challenging for all my students using Social Media.
Consider the standard middle school social studies report. The traditional methods of reading, writing, note taking and research can be difficult for some students and mind-numbing for others. Opening this assignment up to include technology and media immediately increases the engagement and viability. A few simple clicks and a world of videos, links, speakers, songs, interactive maps, online chats, art work and stories are available to the student. Students can choose the information mode that best suits their learning style and can use a variety of sources to reinforce the understanding needed to share the information they have learned. A variety of students using a variety of methods, all working to their strengths to learn effectively, regardless of ability, is the key to true differentiated instruction.
If we use media creatively, we can encourage, teach and support all types of learners. Those who need remediation can find visual presentations to support their process. The gifted learners can be challenged with information from a variety of sources, not limited to those at grade level or pre-selected for a particular reading or thinking level. Kids with short attention spans, those with reading challenges, the auditory learner; all can find information in a format that suits their style and level. As each student starts from their own set of skills, they can find and use media to support what they already know while introducing them to something they have not ever before seen or experienced. An entire world is at their fingertips, replete with the beauty of what makes us different and the safety of what makes us one.