Monday, May 11, 2009

Differentiated Instruction, Session 2

One of the key elements of TPA task 2-4 (and a key element of effective teaching) relates to how you differentiate, accommodate, and/or modify you teaching to make sure that you systematically meet the special needs students and still make sure that they achieve the expected outcomes of the course. How do you make sure that special needs students meet your UbD outcomes and are successful on their assessments despite their disabilities? What do you need to improve?

I think that my biggest strength in terms of teaching different kinds of learners -- be they labeled "special education" or not -- is that I'm not emotionally tied down to one type of teaching or one way of presenting material. I'll try lots of different kinds of instructional approaches in my class; in the last two weeks I've used:
  • Full-out, hands-on, exploratory learning labs
  • Demonstrations with student volunteers in front of the class
  • Direct instruction with whiteboard and/or PowerPoint
  • Individual reflection/analysis sheets
  • Group problem-solving
  • Small group presentations in front of the class
  • Free writes
  • Pair-shares
  • Mind-mapping, and
  • A field trip to an amusement park with worksheets for the students to examine and reflect on the different rides.
I try to engage students on multiple levels, with different kinds of learning methods and with opportunities for metacognition, in the hope that at least some of the methods I use will be effective in transmitting understanding to every student.

I also try to make time for extra support for students who need extra help. I've had some success here -- some students who clearly have difficulty with whole-classroom instruction do much better when I give them more focused, one-on-one attention. The downside, of course, is that it takes away from time for the rest of the class, unless the student is willing to meet with me during extended day (which they sometimes are).

My biggest weakness at this point is that I tend to be too quick to classify things as "successes" or "failures". (That's the J in my INFJ personality coming out, I think.) This is something that Victoria pointed out to me, and I can't argue with her assessment. If I think that something "doesn't work", my first instinct is to jettison it and try something else, instead of seeing success/failure as a gradient with many possible degrees of success. This can lead me to abandon a tactic when I should be thinking about how I can refine it and make it work better with my students (or even with one particular student). Likewise, if something works one time, I may keep doing it uncritically instead of adapting/modifying it to meet new circumstances -- which can lead to confusion and dismay if it suddenly "stops working" as a result.

I also, in all honesty, often feel like I'm flailing blindly in the dark with my engagement strategies. Human beings are staggeringly complex creatures, and my socialization (or lack thereof) during my school years didn't prepare me for what I would encounter in teaching at a public high school. I don't really have a good idea of why things work, or don't -- at least not enough of an idea to be able to predict what will be successful next time. I'm mostly going by my own intuition about what would be good and effective ways to learn things, and that's limited both by my own experience and by my peculiar way of processing the world around me. (One of the disadvantages of being a personality type that makes up less than 1% of the population, I suppose...)