Another highlight of the ATEA conference I mentioned in a previous post, was meeting Jennifer Elsden-Clifton, who is the Lecturer for New Learning at RMIT University’s School of Education. She uses Blackboard Collaborate to support graduate teachers in their first year out. It will be my great privilege to participate in one of her sessions on Differentiation on 28th July. In addition to recommending the list of sites below, my tips to the graduate teachers with regards to differentiation will be:
1. Know your students well.
An effective teacher should be able to list a dozen points about each individual in their class – their abilities, interests and goals. I like to use a “letter to my teacher” at the beginning of the year, to get to know my students better. You could also use one of the many multiple intelligences surveys available to get to know how your students learn best. Tom Barrett has produced an excellent series of crowd-sourced slideshows, including “Interesting Ways to Get to Know your New Class”, which, at the time of writing, had 24 strategies from educators around the world. I often find that I get to know my students best during extra-curricula activities – camps, excursions and sporting events – so I try to be involved in as many of those opportunities as I can be.
2. Take the time at the beginning of a unit of work to find out what students already know about a topic.
I often have a class discussion, in which I draw a mindmap (or display a Bubbl.us concept map) which gives an idea of the scope of the unit. As we mention examples and ideas, these are added to the concept map. You could also ask students to create a Web Doc (mash up of text, images, drawings etc) about what they know about a topic. You might want to emphasize the literacy in a topic, and ask students to create a Wordle or Tagxedo word cloud, or a crossword or word search using key words from the topic. Educaplay is a site to create word puzzles, quizzes, maps and other educational games from keywords.
3. Give students a choice (especially in the middle years) of tools to use or ways of presenting their work.
Encourage students to use a variety, not just the easiest or most favorite each time. Open-ended tasks, that allow students to use their creativity and draw in their own experiences and interests are usually the most successful. For example, the 60second science video competition, in which students were asked to work in a group to produce a one minute movie that demonstrated their understanding of how forces act on an object. Some students used bicycles, skateboards, model boats, paper planes, insects on water, balls and trampolines. You could use Glogster for e-posters, which Kery Obradovich wrote about at “Using Glogster for Differentiation”, create digital stories (slideshows, photostories, videos or ebooks) or any of the online publishing tools (blogs, wikis, podcasts) to share student work. My “Digital Toolbox for 21st Century Learners” has lots of examples of how different web2.0 tools can be used for differentiation.
4. Agree on some criteria that match your learning intentions and make the goals specific.
You may like to show some examples of student work (or your own if you don’t have student examples) and discuss what is good, what is interesting and what might be improved. Develop a rubric with students so they know what is expected. Continue reading