Engaging All Learners Through Differentiated Instruction
Alberta Initiative for School Improvement Project Edmonton Public Schools http://aisi.epsb.ca
The School Connection
Differentiating through contract and self-directed learning options Barry Edgar is a high school physics teacher at Strathcona Composite High School. He believes that the young adults he teaches need the opportunity to take control of their own learning in a supportive environment. Based on that belief, he organizes classroom instruction to allow students to selfdirect their learning by choosing one of three levels of independence: command mode, teacher-student contract or self-directed learning. In command mode, Barry decides on the learning experiences, sets the learning tasks, and manages the classroom learning environment. Students are familiar with this type of classroom learning environment. Students at the other end of the continuum towards independence, the self-directed learners, plan their own learning around identified learner outcomes from the program of studies using their choice of available resources. They decide how to make use of the text resources, whether or not to participate in the whole class instruction, and what problem-solving exercises they will work on. As a third alternative, students can develop a plan for learning in collaboration with Barry — a teacher-student contract — that serves as a stepping stone towards self-directed learning. Based on his knowledge of the learning outcomes and the student’s strengths, Barry negotiates with each student to create a reasonable learning plan. At the beginning of the semester, Barry gives students a chance to experience each of the three levels of independence based on a cluster of learning outcomes. After this initial exposure, students choose their level of independence for a 4–5 day learning period. A visitor to the class would not necessarily be able to tell who is working at which level of independence: command mode, contract or self-directed. Students who are learning based on a self-directed plan may choose to listen in on group instruction and participate in group activities. A student on contract might also participate in a group-discussion activity. All students are required to participate in laboratory experiences. Barry makes sure he checks in with the contract and self-directed learners during class to see how their learning is progressing and to offer support where necessary. He asks students to explain what they understand in relation to the specific learner outcomes for that period of learning. A common quiz is given to all students at the end of the period of learning. As a safety net designed to encourage students to try more independent learning options, students have the opportunity to retake this assessment. To support this type of learning, Barry has a clear assessment and learning plan for each short period of learning. The plan includes options for the contract and independent learners, along with the sequence of learning he plans to use with the students working in command mode. One benefit of the plan is that if a student is away for a period of time, Barry always has an outline of the learning goals and learning experiences ready to provide to that student to allow him or her to catch-up.
Major Differences in PPD in 2008-2009
Click here for an introduction to planned changes in the way professional learning will be facilitated in the DI project next year. More information will be forthcoming in the weeks ahead.
Questions to Ponder
Carol Anne Tomlinson, who is speaking to District staff in April, poses a number of important questions about Differentiated Instruction. In preparation for her visit, and in thinking about the final term ahead, here are three questions to consider and perhaps discuss with colleagues. 1. 2. What approaches do you currently use to understand students’ learning preferences? To use them in your instruction? Describe a time in your classroom when you could or do differentiate content based on student readiness. When you differentiate content based on student interest. When you differentiate content based on student learning profile. What are the key questions you believe students would ask you about differentiation? What specific responses and steps might you take to help them join you in establishing and maintaining an effectively differentiated classroom?
Senior High Teacher Leader Session
When: May 6 from 8:30—11:30 ZPD7122-01
May 21 –23 Details have been sent directly to schools.
The process of differentiating curriculum, instruction, and assessment begins by knowing your students. Jacqueline S. Thousand and Richard Villa
Making A Difference: Meeting diverse learning needs with differentiated instruction (In development)
Alberta Education Learning and Teaching Resources Branch Click here, to view a draft of Ch. 2 Developing Learner Profiles
Create learning communities that are responsive to the diverse needs of who we teach, so that what we teach and how we teach supports the development of capable, connected and contributing learners resulting in improved student learning.
April 2008 Newsletter