4 EdTech Ways to Differentiate in a Student-Centered Classroom

2018 Blog Post Images (2)Co-Written with my friend and business partner Steven Anderson

In all the work that Steven and I do with teachers across the US and beyond we see educators creating amazing learning environments for students. From the use of 1:1 technology to enabling students to learn authentically, these really are incredible times to teach and learn.

However, among all the flash and pageantry there is a struggle. Educators are looking for ways to personalize the learning environment for every student while trying to find ways to differentiate; it can become paralyzing. On the one hand, they have the traditional methods of accessing content and assessing what students have learned. On the other, they have rooms full of technology but aren’t yet taking full advantage of that that technology can do for each student.

Carol Ann Tomlinson said it best:

“At its most basic level, differentiation consists of the efforts of teachers to respond to variance among learners in the classroom. Whenever a teacher reaches out to an individual or small group to vary his or her teaching in order to create the best learning experience possible, that teacher is differentiating instruction.”

Differentiation isn’t just something that some students need or some teachers have to do, differentiation is responsive teaching and a part of every classroom. Each student comes to the classroom with a variety of past learning experiences, prior knowledge and individual learning needs and styles. Whether it is to help a student who struggles to understand basic content, a student who just needs a little push to go deeper or a student who far exceeds our expectations and needs the opportunity to go further, differentiation should be and must be a part of every classroom.

Differentiation comes in many varieties. Teachers can differentiate into four classroom components based on student readiness, interest, or learning profile:

  • Assessment – Understanding what students know and still need to learn
  • Content – What the student needs to learn or how the student will access the information
  • Process – Activities in which the student engages in order to make sense of or master the content
  • Products – culminating projects that ask the student to rehearse, apply, and extend what he or she has learned in a unit

(There is also some evidence that differentiation of the classroom environment, the design of the learning space, furniture used, etc can also help with differentiation. If you want to learn more learning space design check out the work of Bob Dillion.)

When we layer technology into these 4 components, the process of differentiation becomes less daunting and more accessible to each student. Here are 4 Edtech Ways To Differentiate In The Student-Centered Classroom:

1. Assessment-Sometimes is seen as a four-letter word in the world of education, assessment, if done correctly can provide a mountain of valuable information that can help teachers determine where students are in their learning and where the teacher needs to go in their teaching. Particularly, formative assessment is the driver of differentiation of assessment. Formative assessment acts as a GPS, providing valuable information both the teacher and the learner. It provides timely feedback to inform instruction and make an adjustment. When the assessment is used to adjust instruction it crosses over into the “formative assessment” realm. This crossover helps teachers and students to see it, not as a test, but more as a process.

Technology isn’t necessary to do any type of formative assessment. However, if we layer in the effective use of technology into formative assessment we can not only reach students where they are in their understanding but look at trends over time and respond accordingly to our teaching.

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2. Content-When many teachers consider differentiation they look to content as the way to do it for most students, and rightly so. Content is the foundation of learning and skills are applied. Therefore, if we can provide a way for students to access that content at their level, we can better meet their learning needs. Each student is (and should be) held to high standards. But we know not every student is on the same path for their learning. Through the differentiation of content, we can level the playing field for each student.

Technology has made it much easier and frankly more possible to differentiate content in new and exciting ways. In some cases, students can be given the same content, however it is tailored to their individual needs either through raising or lowering the reading level, providing more visualizations or still meeting standards but providing content that is interesting and exciting for students.

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3. Process-Differentiation of the processes by which students learn is another traditional way that teachers provide different learning paths for students. For many students, the instructional practices are outdated and do not meet their needs. If we want to create an environment where each student can find success no matter their learning profile than we have to look beyond traditional pedagogy and meet students where they are at and how they want to consume information.

Technology makes the differentiation process easier. Accessibility tools built into modern devices make it easier for us all to use those devices more effectively and efficiently. And many of those tools can benefit all students. In addition, the idea of gamifying learning is gaining steam to provide an environment that is familiar to students but also is fun, challenging and rich with varied learning opportunities.

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4. Product-Ultimately, students need to demonstrate their holistic understanding of the content. Traditionally that is done through a summative project. However, this method is flawed when we produce a list of items that students must include, the specific font to use, the number of cited sources, etc. That isn’t a project, that is a recipe. And recipes don’t belong in the classroom. Students need freedom of choice in how they demonstrate their understanding. That doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all. We can provide creativity, choice, and freedom within boundaries.

Technology is truly transformational and students should be able to demonstrate understanding through a variety of transformational ways. This differentiation of product can look different for each student, however, at the heart are the same learning goals. Through the effective use of technology, students can do incredible things while still demonstrating what they know and how they know what they know.

Some Of Our Favorites

 

Want to learn more? You can grab a copy of our resources from our FETC 2018 Presentation or inquire about a workshop on EdTech Ways to DIfferentiate in the Classroom by contacting Steven, http://www.web20classroom.org/contact

10 Instructional Strategies for the Differentiated Classroom

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In a Differentiated Classroom, teachers begin where students are, not from the front of the textbook. They recognize the strengths and areas of growth in each individual and use multiple instructional practices to meet student needs and boost them up a level. No student’s roadmap for learning is identical to anyone else’s and differentiating in Process, Product, & Content recognizes these differences.

Carol Ann Tomlinson is a leading expert in this field and I often draw upon her work to support literacy learning in the classroom and with teachers. Her methods and instructional practices are practical and applicable to any grade level or discipline. It is the teacher, not a set of curriculum materials, that makes the difference in the learner’s achievement. Teachers who differentiate shape what is learned, how it is learned and the learning environment based on the student.

The “How” in a Differentiated Classroom is often the area most educators find most challenging. Because of this need, I highlighted 10 Instructional Strategies (based off of Tomlinson’s work) that promote differentiation in the classroom. Just as all learners are different, so too are instructional practices and a classroom full of individuals may require the savvy teacher to employ multiple practices simultaneously.

 

How to Create a Google My Maps Challenge

Social Media Challenge

During a session at ISTE17, Steven Anderson and I created an interactive, group challenge to kick it off. We had educators assemble into teams, pick a team name, and gave them a link to a Google My Maps. The link took the teams to a location where they learned about a social media platform, had a task to complete, submitted their answers, and then raced off to the next location.

It was engaging, collaborative, and a competition which helped to energize the educators on the last day of the conference. As promised, I created a template and step by step directions for all those wanting to recreate their own Google My Maps Challenge. I encourage you to use both resources and make a copy for yourself to use and share.

I was introduced to this concept at the Google Innovator Academy and fell in love with the idea of using this type of challenge with educators and students. I have created these types of interactive activities for many different learning objectives (cross-discipline literacy to learning Google Suite Tools). I also believe that modeling this activity provides other educators with inspiration to try something different in their own classroom and consider the use of technology to differentiate in the classroom meeting the needs of all students. 

Thanks to all that attending our session and loved this activity! Hope this post helps and reach out if you need more assistance! Steven and Shaelynn’s Session Resources found here: Snapping, Gramming, and Scoping Your Way to Engagement

7 Virtues of a Blended Learning Teacher

Adobe Spark (17)This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is To what extent is this a new model of learning in a digital age? Is blended learning becoming yet another overhyped myth?  What lessons learned can you share from your own school community?”

Blended learning is a disputed term among academics and one may find what it is NOT, rather than what it IS. With the changing landscape of education and more technology in the classroom, educators are (consciously or unconsciously) employing this type of learning. In 2009, I entered the world of blended learning after the school I taught at implemented a 1 to 1 laptop initiative which placed computers in the hands of all students (grade 6-12) that they used in the classroom and brought home with them each night. Because of this experience and through conversations I have had with other educators in similar education ecosystems, I believe that blended learning is a combination of traditional teaching methods and digital ones. Blended Learning combines the best of both worlds and allows student control over time, place, pace, and/or path.

Educators who are sound in content and pedagogy are often high-impact blended learning teachers as well. Through reflection and conversation, blended learning teachers possess similar virtues:

Teacher Virtues:  

  1. Uninhibited Creativity in delivery and content of learning
  2. Sees Failure as Opportunities for Growth and gains achieved through perseverance
  3. Seeks out Opportunities for Improvement
  4. Reflective in Practice and on student achievement
  5. Student-centered and Relinquishes Control of elements in traditional teaching
  6. Sees Technological Differentiation as a Way to Meet All Students’ Needs
  7. Recognizes Multidimensional and Multimodal Learning as Relevant and Engaging

 

Teacher virtues in both a traditional or blended environment extend across both and most, are interchangeable in either environment. Technology or blended learning does not automatically make one better. In fact, through experience, it does quite the opposite, magnifying poor classroom management or lack of understanding of content or pedagogy. Effective blended teachers are always effective classroom teachers but the opposite may not be true. To be a high-impact blended teacher it takes creativity, understanding, resourcefulness, and reflection in a digital learning space.

Technology to Support Struggling Readers with Dyslexia

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I am often asked how best to support struggling readers, especially those with reading disabilities. While it is important to identify and provide interventions early, all students, no matter their age, can continue to learn and develop literacy skills throughout their lifetime. When a child is diagnosed with dyslexia there are many questions from educators on what exactly that means and how best to support these struggling readers. Simply put, dyslexia is a neurobiological disorder that affects the development of basic reading skills and spelling skills. Just because a child has difficulty in both decoding (written word pronunciation) and encoding (spelling) does not mean they have difficulty in comprehending what they hear.

Students diagnosed with dyslexia should continue to receive interventions and support in the areas of reading and writing but the addition of assistive technology provides these students access to the same content and curriculum as their peers. This is essential and also the law. Students diagnosed with dyslexia are protected under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and have the right to participate in the general education curriculum.

As a student gets older, accessing content across discipline areas become a priority for students with dyslexia. Fortunately, widespread use of technology in education has made this possible for many. Equipping struggling readers diagnosed with dyslexia with compensatory tools helps them identify ways they can access information for school and in life. Text to Speech is one resource all educators should be familiar with to support students.

Chromebooks and Google

Screenshot 2017-05-05 at 3.42.48 PMGoogle Chrome Extension Read and Write for Google by TextHelp – Read and Write for Google offers teachers and students many more options than just text to speech. It also has a text to picture dictionary, word prediction, voice notes option along with much, much more. This one extension provides struggling readers with dyslexia support in both reading and writing. It is definitely one of my favorites, check it out. 

Reader Add-onGoogle Doc Add-On ReaderThis add-on reads all text on a Google Doc. It was easy to use and is available in multiple languages and dialects. It is free. A bonus with using Google, if you upload a pdf into your Drive you can open it as a Google Doc making this perfect for those text to speech tools that do not read pdfs.

Screenshot 2017-05-05 at 3.40.13 PMGoogle Chrome App TTS-ReaderAllows students to copy and paste any text to hear it spoken. Students can pause, stop, and start this app and it remembers the position where the student left off. It highlights the spoken text and uses no data once the page is loaded. Supports multilingual and English in different accents.

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Google Chrome Extension Selection ReaderThis Chrome Extension allows you to simply highlight and play. It is easy to use and could handle a large amount of text selected. Paused naturally at commas and punctuation. Perfect for reading webpages a student may use.

 

 

Apple Devices 

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 3.24.18 PMMacbook – iOs accessibility features make text to speech on an Apple device a breeze. If you are on a Macbook, simply accesses the Accessibility Features under the System Preferences. Once you click on “Accessibility” simply choose desired rate and voice in the “Speech” option and enable “Speak selected text when the key is pressed”.

iPad – An iPad is similar to a Macbook in that you launch “Settings” and click on “General” to locate “Accessibility” options. Under “Accessibility” tap on “Speak Selection” and adjust the rate with the slider. For both the Macbook and iPad, text to speech works for websites, iBooks, PDFs, as well as many other apps you may have installed.

Accessible content for students who are struggling readers and are diagnosed with dyslexia is easy to do when a student simply needs to hear the text in order to comprehend it. Using an app like Tiny Scanner can help you turn any text into digital text that can then be read aloud using one of the Text to Speech apps above!

 

Resources Used – Nancy Mather and Barbara J. Wendling. Essentials of Dyslexia Assessment and Intervention.  New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2012.