Effective Classroom Instruction
“The success of education depends on adapting teaching to individual differences among learners,” Maxim in a Chinese treatise in the fourth century B.C., (Corno & Snow, 1986).
The methods utilized to effectively teach are crucial to assisting every single learner within all settings. Differentiation supports the classrooms of today because schools are becoming more academically diverse in most regions of the United States; many classrooms contain students representing both genders and multiple cultures; most classes generally contain students with a range of exceptionalities and markedly different experiential backgrounds; and many classrooms frequently include students who do not speak English as a first language. These issues lead to classrooms that require students to work at differing readiness levels because of varying interests and learning modes (Teele, 2004; Tomlinson, et al., 2003; Tomlinson, 2003; Tomlinson, 2001; Tomlinson, 2000). Instructors must provide for, and allow for, learning to occur at varying degrees and in various modes, to meet the needs of the diversity of learners within each classroom, in order to ensure success for all learners at each students’ readiness level.
Differentiated instruction is one means to effectively teach with student variance in mind-teachers instructing at the level and the readiness of the students rather than adopting a standardized approach to teaching that seems to presume that all learners of a given age or grade are essentially similar. Differentiated instruction enables teachers to deliver a curriculum appropriate for all students within the classroom by addressing each child’s individual needs, which leads to effective classroom instruction (Affholder, 2003). Differentiated instruction is a “responsive” teaching method antithesis to a mediocre view that all students will learn in the same manner or style of teaching (Norlund, 2003; Tomlinson, 2003). The teacher accepts and builds upon the premise that learners differ in significant ways and instruction needs to accommodate these differences.
Tomlinson (1999) affirms that the hallmark of a differentiated classroom is when the teacher begins instruction where the students readiness levels are, and not at the front of a curriculum guide. Teachers also accept and operate upon the premise that it is a necessity to be ready to engage students in teaching and learning by the use of multiple learning modalities, by utilizing varied rates of instruction along with varied degrees of complexity, and by appealing to differing interests (Teele, 1997; Teele, 2004; Tomlinson, 1999). Significantly, in a differentiated classroom, teachers ensure that a student competes against herself/himself as she/he grows and develops, which is crucial for effective classroom instruction.
In differentiated classrooms, teachers must provide specific ways for each individual to learn as in-depth of a manner as possible in order to reach higher levels of thinkinganalysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Teachers must be mindful of students’ road maps for learning because each student is not identical to any other student’s method of learning. Therefore, Heacox (2002) asserts that teachers in differentiated classes must use time flexibly, call upon a multitude of instructional strategies, and become partners with students to ensure that the learning environments are shaped by the learners.
A differentiated classroom involves specific instructional strategies, curriculum modifications, formative and summative assessments, and specific management tools, which are all combined by a common assurance to address individual needs (Affholder, 2003). This requires that teachers devise lessons that are tiered, and that allow for student choices. This also requires a flexible teacher to provide lessons, which provide multiple learning strategies, reaching each individual child at her/his learning level. Accordingly, the teacher must then provide instrumentations that allow the learner to shape her/his learning in an environment that promotes diversity within the final learner products, which leads to effective classroom instruction and effective learning.
Learning is seen not as a reinforced repetition of what others think and know, but as an active process of comparing, contrasting, and creating new systemic interpretations that can accommodate multiple perspectives on both the physical and social environment (Piaget, 1952). Thus, one method utilized to effectively teach, and is crucial to assisting every single learner within all settings is, differentiation.
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