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Instructional Methods for Differentiation and Deeper Learning

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Expertly motivate and engage all students. Taking a practical approach to differentiated instruction, the authors outline research-based strategies and illustrate how teachers, coaches, and administrators can use them to enhance their everyday practices. Explore ways to implement differentiated learning for students needing personalized remedial instruction and high-ability students, as well as tactics for executing instruction in culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms.

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Chapter 1 Delivering Differentiated Remedial Instruction

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In an ideal world, every student would (and should) be able to succeed, even if it is at different rates and with different strengths. To differentiate instruction is to recognize an individual student’s learning history, background, readiness to learn, interests, and acquired skill set, and then choose instructional strategies more tailored to that student, or a small group, to speed academic success. Converting the school mission statement from “We believe that all children can learn” to “We expect all children to learn” would be a major step in this direction.

With this perspective in mind, consider the following quote:

Every child can learn. That so many students fail to attain necessary skills reflects not the incapacity of the students but the incapacity of schools to meet the needs of every child. Given a skilled one-to-one tutor, for example, every student without severe dyslexia or retardation could attain an adequate level of basic skills. Practically speaking, of course, it is unlikely that we will soon be providing a skilled tutor for every child who is falling behind in reading or math. Nevertheless, we can develop feasible programs to ensure that every child learns. The first step is to consider what we know about practices that can accelerate the achievement of students in danger of school failure. (Slavin & Madden, 1989, p. 4)

 

Chapter 2 Delivering Differentiated Instruction for Gifted Students

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Data from both the 2009 and 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) show that the United States is behind other leading countries in producing high-achieving students (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], 2009, 2012). While the proportion of top reading and science performers among all test-takers in the United States is around the OECD (2012) average, the United States has proportionally fewer students reaching advanced achievement levels in mathematics compared to other industrialized nations, as indicated in figure 2.1. Specifically, only 2 percent of U.S. students reach the highest level (level 6) of performance in mathematics (the OECD average is 3 percent), compared with 31 percent of students in Shanghai, China. Typically, students in level 6 can develop and work with models for complex situations and strategically use broad, well-developed thinking and reasoning skills.

Some good news for the United States is that education initiatives since the 1970s have focused substantially on bridging the gap for low-performing students and setting benchmarks for all students, as discussed in chapter 1. Unfortunately, the same focus doesn’t exist for gifted or high-performing students (Greene & Cross, 2013; Konstantopoulos, Modi, & Hedges, 2001). Do note that gifted students can be defined in many ways, and we adopt the most widely accepted definition from the U.S. Department of Education: “Children and youth with outstanding talent who perform or show potential for performing at remarkably high level accomplishments when compared with others of their age, experience, or environment” (National Society for the Gifted and Talented, 2015, p. 1). In other words, giftedness does not only speak of talent, but also the performance and accomplishment.

 

Chapter 3 Delivering Differentiated Instruction for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students

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Throughout its history, the United States has been a magnet for immigration. However, the rate of immigration into the United States from around the world has escalated since the 1970s, meaning that many classrooms have become more diverse communities of learners as each year passes. In 2012, students of color made up more than 45 percent of the preK–12 population, whereas teachers of color made up only 17.5 percent of the educator workforce (Deruy, 2013). Additionally, the numbers of culturally and linguistically diverse students are projected to continue rising. Interestingly, this pattern of increased diversity isn’t unique to the United States; Canada, along with many European and Asian countries (such as Sweden and Singapore), has experienced unprecedented rates of immigration since the 1990s (OECD, 2009). The movement of people across the world seems to be continuing unabated.

These changes raise questions about teachers’ efficacy in working with students from cultural backgrounds that differ from their own. While an effective teacher will consider the unique learning needs of diverse students when planning and delivering instruction, increasing diversity and changing demographics in school communities complicate this directive. Teachers continue to face challenges in providing appropriate classroom environments and high standards of instruction that foster the academic achievement of all students, particularly minorities and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds (Bloom & Peters, 2012; McAllister & Irvine, 2008). Francisco Hidalgo, Rudolfo Chávez-Chávez, and Jean Ramage (1996) developed a theoretical framework to aid teachers in envisioning an effective, culturally responsive teacher. It involves:

 

Chapter 4 Questioning

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Questioning is a technique teachers use to propose a verbal problem to students in order to heighten thinking and learning. Teachers ask questions for a number of purposes, such as getting students’ attention, checking and diagnosing students’ understanding, structuring and redirecting learning, and keeping students engaged. Questions and answers, from teachers to students and back again, represent much of the interaction that takes place in classrooms.

Questioning can certainly be used ineffectively, so teachers must learn to ask appropriate questions at appropriate times to solicit appropriate information regarding how well students have mastered facts, skills, or ideas in a lesson. Because questioning can encourage student engagement and support a teacher’s ability to monitor the learning process and make instructional modifications, an effective teacher would consider his or her instructional repertoire incomplete without a capable command of the skill.

Questioning is one of the most widely used instructional practices in education; however, too frequently teachers do not use it to its full advantage. A review of research on teachers’ questioning behaviors finds that teachers ask many questions—about fifty questions in a typical class period—but most of the questions are at the lowest cognitive level, known as fact, recall, or knowledge questions (Walsh & Sattes, 2005). One study finds teachers ask about 93 percent of all the questions raised, while students only ask 7 percent (Reinsvold & Cochran, 2012)—revealing the potential for limitations or misuse of questioning as an instructional tool. Furthermore, only 17 percent of teacher questions are open ended, with the majority of those being interpretation questions (versus for application, problem solving, or critical thinking).

 

Chapter 5 Metacognition

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In today’s world, learning discrete sets of knowledge and skills, as well as mastering their use, is important. However, this isn’t enough. Given the dramatic changes that adults have experienced and the accelerating rate of change that students will encounter in their personal lives, teachers must equip students for changing contexts, knowledge and skill sets, and careers.

Indeed, the world is rapidly evolving and ever competitive. What becomes essential, then, is that teachers prepare students to understand and embrace change. Learning is essential but no longer sufficient; what they need is the capacity to learn how to learn. In other words, students need to develop a clear, deep mastery of metacognition.

The Greek prefix meta- means beyond, thus metacognition refers to beyond learning. As Gregory Thomas (2003) defines it, “Metacognition refers to an individual’s knowledge, awareness and control of his/her thinking and learning strategies” (p. 175). Put another way, metacognition is the awareness a person has of the type of cognitive procedures he or she uses in specific instances (Zohar & Peled, 2008). Metacognition— “cognition about cognition” or “knowing about knowing”—can take various forms: “It includes knowledge about when and how to use particular strategies for learning or for problem solving” (Metacognition, n.d.). As Hope Hartman (2001) argues:

 

Chapter 6 Creativity

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The creativity quotient scores of Americans have consistently inched downward since 1990, particularly for students from kindergarten through sixth grade (Bronson & Merryman, 2010). In fact, the decrease for kindergarteners through third graders has been the most significant (Kim, 2011). These alarming findings have many likely culprits, but regardless of the root causes, teachers often find themselves caught between the constraints of externally imposed mandates and the need to value and support the creativity of their students (Beghetto, 2007). Yong Zhao (2009, 2012), an internationally known scholar on the implications of globalization and technology in education, notes that in relation to the importance of creativity in the United States’ success, standardization and conformity might be harmful to society. He recommends individualized, holistic approaches to education that promote young people’s creativity and entrepreneurship.

Some educators make a distinction between teaching creatively and teaching for creativity. The former refers to using innovative approaches to make learning more engaging and effective, and the latter is defined as forms of teaching that are intended to develop students’ own creativity. In actual practice, however, teaching creatively and teaching for creativity are not dichotomized but integrally related (Jeffrey & Craft, 2004). In fact, students’ creative abilities are most likely to develop in environments in which the teachers themselves are creative and teach creatively (Dikici, 2014). Regardless of how it is defined or characterized, creativity in the classroom clearly is a hallmark of American education that we can’t afford to neglect.

 

Chapter 7 Critical Thinking

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Of the unique skills essential for success in the 21st century, surely one must be the capacity to process and make sense of vast amounts of information on a daily basis. Just coping with an information-rich world requires students to find information, evaluate its trustworthiness, and apply it appropriately within a given context. Developing this effective thinking skill set in a dynamic and rapidly evolving world must be a priority of 21st century schools.

Critical thinking is “reasonable and reflective thinking which uses a variety of skills to reach logical, unbiased and informed reasons or conclusions” (Kysilka & Biraimah, 1993, p. 119). Similarly, Yigal Rosen and Maryam Tager (2014) define critical thinking as:

The capacity of an individual to effectively engage in a process of making decisions or solving problems by analyzing and evaluating evidence, arguments, claims, beliefs, and alternative points of view; synthesizing and making connections between information and arguments; interpreting information; and making inferences using reasoning appropriate to the situation. (p. 252)

 

Chapter 8 Complex Thinking

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What do students really need to learn in order to succeed, not only in the classroom but also later on in college, the workplace, and as engaged citizens? Beginning in 2010, a movement for deeper learning or complex thinking has emerged on the United States’ education scene. Complex thinking refers to a set of competencies students must master in order to develop keen understanding of academic content and apply their knowledge to novel tasks and situations in the classroom and on the job—competencies such as problem finding, problem solving, and creative thinking (Huberman, Bitter, Anthony, & O’Day, 2014). Students need to develop attitudes and mindsets that empower them to confront new challenges, take the initiative, and persevere through setbacks.

Unfortunately, the academic rigor of teaching and learning in many classrooms is low. Teachers do not always have enough time or the expertise to balance the memorization of facts with the more complex tasks of applying, synthesizing, evaluating, and communicating. A review of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 1999 video study finds that mathematics teachers in the United States focus learning on content, routine exercises, and procedures at the lower end of the cognitive continuum (Hiebert et al., 2005). Additionally, U.S. students spend 34 percent of each mathematics lesson applying knowledge as compared to 74 percent for Japanese students.

 

Chapter 9 Active Learning

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Many of the methods in this book, such as problem-based learning and complex thinking, overlap with active learning to a certain degree. However, active learning is a broader concept and, in practice, does not necessarily follow the processes of the other instructional models.

So what do we mean by active learning? Simply put, active learning is the opposite of passive learning. Researchers generally define it as any instructional method that engages students in the learning process. Actively learning students engage in meaningful learning activities and think about what they are doing (Prince, 2004). Passive students, on the other hand, depend on a teacher to impart knowledge, and passive learning requires little student personal involvement or overt work—it is not considered self-reinforcing. Passive learning also tends to get dull very quickly as learners become disinterested, unmotivated, nonresponsive, and ineffectual. Students typically do not well retain information they learn passively, or apply it effectively (Petress, 2008).

 

Chapter 10 Problem-Based Learning

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The Gallup Corporation, in collaboration with Microsoft Partners in Learning and the Pearson Foundation, developed a 21st century skill index measuring seven specific areas (Levy & Sidhu, 2013): (1) collaboration, (2) knowledge construction, (3) skilled communication, (4) global awareness, (5) self-regulation, (6) real-world problem solving, and (7) technology use in learning. The findings indicate that of all these seven areas, real-world problem solving is most strongly linked to self-reported work success. However, only 29 percent of the surveyed young adults (aged eighteen to thirty-five) say they learned to develop solutions to real-world problems in school (Levy & Sidhu, 2013).

Schools and classrooms have a significant effect on students’ long-term work quality when teachers integrate real-world problem solving into the curriculum. The workplace increasingly calls for skills in effectively analyzing and resolving issues. Consequently, teachers may need to renew—or in some cases, reinvent—classroom instruction to help students learn to build and integrate deeper understanding, become autonomous learners and thinkers, and explore and solve important, real problems.

 



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