Saturday, 21 February 2015

Differentiation without discrimination*

Each and every one of us have faced and taught one of ‘those’ classes - ‘those’ classes that challenge each and every bit of your being, classes that you are frustrated by and that equally challenges you. They frustrate me, because their learning needs and understanding of mathematics is so diverse, yet they challenge me, like no other class as I am constantly thinking of different ways to engage them all in class and to provide for each and every students according to his and her needs. Don’t get me wrong they are a great class and wouldn’t want it any other way, but it doesn’t mean it is easy. Things that I would normally do and be able to do in a mixed ability classroom is not so possible with this class, as they require such different work in order for them to be simulated.

Differentiation can sometimes be a sticky subject - please don’t think I’m against it, hear me out! When you differentiate, you provide different opportunities for students to reach the end goal, but it requires them standing out. If you provide students with something else, piece of paper, different set of instructions, etc., they stand out. High school is awkward enough, standing out as being different is worse! How can I help my students without making them feel awkward, but still challenge them in a way that is personally appropriate?

This is one of the many advantages of being in a 1:1 iPad (technology) environment, is the opportunity for anonymity. You will never know what someone is working on/doing without explicitly looking. I used this anonymity to provide an opportunity for greater differentiation.
I would create/simulate a flipped classroom environment where I record videos of me teaching/explaining a specific concept. I used the app ExplainEverything to record these videos ranging from 1 - 5 minutes per video. I am very careful and make sure that none of the videos introduces more than one concept at a time, it might cover and use concepts previously studied but a new concepts is introduced per video. My students are provided with these concept check/explanation videos, and questions to be working on. These are all posted on their iTunes U course, where they can assess it and work on it as and when they want to.

Above: Screenshot from my iTunes U course

Students can then work through these concepts and questions at their own pace and I assist when they are struggling. My classroom has now become a place where students work at the pace their are comfortable at and I facilitate their learning. Some students would be watching videos in a lesson while others might be engaged in discussing a problem and others are working one-to-one with me. This model is not perfect, but it has allowed me to differentiate without discrimination. Of course, some students are more intrinsically motivated and this gives them the opportunity to ‘have’ me at home when they want to work through more concepts, giving them the opportunity to continuously challenge themselves to reach higher. Equally, students struggling have me to help them in class on the bits they are finding difficult, without the pressure of peers judging them.

As technology continues to improve, we need to find new and interesting ways to engage and differentiate for the different learning needs that exist within the classroom.

*For this post, I refer to discrimination, as defined by as the "treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favour of or against, a person ... based on the group, class, or category to which that person ... belongs rather than on individual merit".

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