Sunday, April 24, 2011

Using Technology to Differentiate Instruction

Now in the final week of my Master’s program, I am reflecting on my learning, and on the resulting improvements in my instruction. In my most recent course, Reaching and Engaging All Learners Through Technology, I learned to use technology to differentiate instruction for the diverse students in my classroom.My teaching will improve as a result of this learning because I will use technology to better understand my students’ learning needs, to present relevant content in formats students can learn from, to engage students in meaningful, creative learning activities, and to assess students in authentic ways.

The first change I will make will be to use online resources for pre-assessment of students’ readiness levels, interests, learning styles, and background knowledge. I learned that "effective teaching starts with what students already know and leads them to new understanding" (Alvermann, Phelps, & Ridgeway, 2007, p. 138). By developing a clear picture of students' learning needs, I will better support them in meeting curriculum standards; while also creating a learning environment where all students can be successful. 

I will also integrate technology tools into the curriculum to provide multiple means for presenting information. Behrmann (1994) states "A computer and a modem can transport students beyond their physical environment to access electronic information” (online). This includes discussion forums, online texts, podcasts, videos, Webquests, and interactive learning games. For students who need accommodations such as text-to-speech or word prediction software, I now know how to provide these assistive technology options. I also learned to individualize texts and materials using the CAST (2011) program Book Builder; so I will build in supports for struggling readers and challenges for advanced readers using this technology tool.

Through my experiences in this course, I learned to design authentic assessments to evaluate student learning using differentiated methods (Cennamo, Ross, and Ertmer, 2009, p. 291). Assessments provide learning opportunities when using engaging multimedia tools such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, and online presentations to effectively measure achievement. Students will meet technology objectives while creating products that demonstrate their mastery of language arts objectives.

One of the things I will do immediately to integrate technology to improve my assessment of students is to begin using electronic student portfolios. Students can easily develop these using a Weblog (Richardson, 2009, p. 23) and I will be able to provide formative feedback throughout the semester. Finally, students will have evidence that they have met the standards, samples of their work, and reflections on their learning all easily accessible to share with their parents and teachers; and for me to share with colleagues and administrators. This will provide a summative assessment option flexible enough to allow all students to demonstrate their proficiency in learning standards.

Other changes I will make in my lesson plans and assessments include using “adjustable assignments” (Chapman & King, 2009, p. 87) to meet the needs of all students when learning new content starting from different levels of readiness. I developed “choice boards” (Chapman & King, 2009, p. 85) that include varied technology options to allow all students to apply their learning in diverse ways. I will also use "differentiated grouping designs” (Chapman & King, 2009, p. 148) that enhance all students’ learning by grouping them based on their strengths and learning styles.

            Personally, I felt motivated and engaged as a learner during this course because I had the opportunity to collaborate with fellow students, to investigate professional research on topics I was highly interested in, and to create authentic products including a website, a blog, a glog, and a podcast (all of which are published publicly). I got to try out the ideas I was studying, and to learn by teaching others. None of this would have been possible without the technology tools I learned to use. 

For my own students, similar experiences to mine are both possible and beneficial. They will be motivated by collaborating with peers online, by completing online inquiry projects based on their interests, and by creating authentic products online. My students will learn the ELA content by applying their knowledge, through multimedia tools, to teach each other and to demonstrate their understandings creatively. Technology allows me to more effectively reach every student, from getting to know each learner, to delivering accessible content at each learner’s level, to assigning activities designed with each learner’s needs in mind, to assessing every student in through unique methods. I look forward to the changes I will implement in my classroom to integrate technology to improve instruction and to make the learning experience more exciting.

Alvermann, D., Phelps, S., & Ridgeway, V. (2007). Content area reading and literacy:
Succeeding in today's diverse classrooms. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
Behrmann, M. (1994). Assistive technology for students with mild disabilities. Intervention in
School and Clinic, 30(2), 70-83. Adapted by permission. Retrieved March 6, 2011 from
CAST. (2011). Chapter 6: Teaching every student. Retrieved from
Cennamo, K., Ross, J., & Ertmer, P. (2009). Technology Integration for Meaningful Classroom Use: A standards-based approach. Mason, OH: Cenage Learning.
Chapman, C. & King, R. (2009). Differentiated instructional strategies for reading in the content areas. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Richardson, W. (2009). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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