What does it mean to differentiate the process (content, strategies for instruction) in the classroom?
Once again I feel most comfortable falling back on my Kagan training where I did not spend hours in front of a computer researching, but with living, breathing human beings. We interacted in flesh and blood, used books, giggled, laughed, groaned, aha’ed, and connected without wireless internet. I know, what an old-fashioned way to learn something new. I do not enjoy learning by staring at an impersonal computer screen for hours. However, some people thrive from the online world. All this to first bring home the point that everyone learns differently, including educators.
Differentiating in the classroom means providing a variety of methods for students to master the learning objectives. I attended a Kagan conference last year about Brain friendly teaching. It was a powerful kick in the rear because I realized that I was mostly teaching my way of learning or what I thought was the most efficient way to learn. It bothered me greatly that I was neglecting any student who did not learn like me. I was not allowing for those brains who remembered concepts by doing something artistic. I was only explaining things one way instead of several different ways. I was not allowing for math conversations or time to process what they had just learned.
Now I strive to teach a little differently. I give choices on how they wish to learn or practice a new concept. For instance, when we are learning how to spell our new word wall words, they may choose the materials (pencil or colored marker and paper, dry erase marker and board) they use to practice the words. At times they may choose to spell the word out loud and move, write with their finger on their arm, in the air, etc. If we are working on counting money, they can choose to write out the money on their dry erase boards or have play money in front of them. Sometimes, I use BrainPOPjr to further explain a concept. My students love this website and ask daily if they can watch it.
One last nugget of information that I have learned, is that students need time to be able to think before they give an answer. I know that this may be old news for some teachers, but I did not realize this because I was one of the ones who generally knew an answer right away. It is my job, as their teacher, to allow some think time so that more students have a chance to answer correctly. There are also kids who like to blurt out. I fulfill the need for blurters and longer thinkers by having a signal that tells the students when they can blurt out. It kills two birds with one stone, so to speak and everyone gets a fair shot at answering the question.
I, by no means, have completely mastered how to teach to everyone effectively but I strive to differentiate my teaching every day so that I provide the best learning environment possible for my first grade sponges.