Differentiation in the Classroom: Reflections

On Wednesday, 18th April 2018, I attended the Networked Learning Initiatives (NLI) on differentiation in the classroom. This was an interesting 2-hour class that was worth every second. The facilitators made this class interesting by making us discuss in groups and giving us problems to solve in groups. I learned many things and I will share some of them in the paragraphs that follow.

To start with, I learned what differentiation in the classroom is. Simply put, differentiation in the classroom is being aware of the differences in our students. Differences could range from almost imperceptible challenges such as learning disability (e.g. challenges with comprehension) to more blatant ones like autism. When I registered for this class, I had the later in mind. However, I soon found out that the term ‘differences’ was more nuanced than I had imagined. Realizing my ignorance, I thought to myself, “could there have been someone in my class with challenges such as learning disability that I failed to notice?”, how many times have we tagged students as lazy while they suffered from a learning disability and we as instructors are oblivious of their challenges?  If there was one thing I learned from this class, it would be that I am now more cognizant of the subtle differences that are present in my classroom.

Another takeaway for me was the fact that I need to be intentional about differences in my classroom going forward. It is not enough to be aware of differences but we need to take necessary steps to accommodate students with challenges that we might not even be conscious of. The way we design our instructional materials is crucial. Four things are important to keep in mind when designing instructional materials – learning experiences of students, desires and needs of students, their pains (what are their fears?), and their actions (what are students doing to learn?). All these should inform how we structure our instructional materials. For example, students with eye problems could be helped with legible Powerpoints.

This class was also very resourceful as facilitators shared tips for accommodating individual differences in the classroom. Tips include elaboration, self-regulated learning, balance– combining segments of lecture with short active learning activities, participatory lectures, and brainstorming, Moreover, I learned various techniques for engaged classroom e.g. Think-Pair-Share, guided notes, role-playing, Just-in-Time Teaching (JiTT), minute paper, muddiest point, and pause procedure. While most of these techniques were not new to me, some were, but most importantly I was able to learn how to use them effectively. For instance, I used to engage in the pause-procedure in my classes but I was not methodical about it.Thanks to this NLI, I now know that you take a pause after about 10 minutes because that is about the lifespan of a student’s attention. For example, a lecture can go on for 10 mins, then pause and give them activities or ask them to brainstorm with the person seating next to them (Think-Pair-Share). Also, because of students’ low attention lifespan, I learned that I should structure my lecture so that the most important things are delivered first (when their attention is rapt), followed by the less important things.All in all, this NLI was very resourceful and I learned a lot which I hope to utilize in my teaching. Moreover, I picked some very good points from listening to the experiences of other participants. I hope to attend more NLIs in the Fall Semester.

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I think that your insight into being intentional about your instruction in the classroom is essential. Many professors forget that everyone learns the same. This sentiment must be reexamined if professors want to teach in a classroom environment. I know professors do try to engage students at all levels. But, they should also remember that students learn differently; teaching these students may require professors to think outside of the box to engage students that otherwise may not be involved. Thank you for highlighting these tips.

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