The Overarching Learning Outcomes, in the NCFS, which describe what is hoped all children will be able to do as a result of their education have been developed for the lower secondary level by the Ministry of Education and Human Resources in Mauritius. They are the big aims and as such are described in very general ways. The National Curriculum goals 3 and 4 lead to the specific goal:
'Students select, integrate and apply numerical and spatial concepts and techniques in a variety of situations'
The NCFS further stipulates that Mathematics will remain a core subject at the lower secondary level and also says that the relevance of Mathematics to facilitate the acquisition of generic thinking skills and to develop the adolescent's cognitive resources should be given due recognition. Further, Mathematics also allows to make connections with other domains of learning.
According to the NCFS, Mathematics is a powerful tool and the driving force of the national school curriculum. It helps to produce numerate citizens who can think logically and rationally, solve complex problems, make informed decisions and communicate fluently in this highly technological world. Building on knowledge and skills acquired at the primary level, students need to be provided with opportunities to develop deeper understanding of mathematical knowledge as well as the relationship of Mathematics with other curriculum areas and the real world around.
At Form I, the topic of equation is taught as follows: additive and multiplicative inverses and solving linear equations. At Form II level, students are taught on the solutions of equations (including algebraic fractions). Equations constitute foundation topics at lower secondary level and students are expected to rigorously master these topics as they have thorough applications in other chapters in Mathematics and in other classes as well.
My own experience has indicated that even students in higher forms get difficulty in sign manipulation, manipulating numbers and carrying out the processes to solve equations correctly. It is my opinion that the educator would gain a lot if students had mastered these topics properly at the lower forms.
Most of the teaching that we use in our school is direct instruction also known as the expository method. Direct instruction assumes that different students are of similar academic ability. This is the precise reason why some students start to lag behind and is accentuated even more once they are promoted to higher forms. This is why I am particularly motivated to try an already well-established method i.e. differentiated instruction in my classroom so as to see the extent to which it could enhance the understanding of students on the topic of equations at the Form II level.
Teaching is very fundamental for the existence of the world as it is these days. Each year, the 5th of October is decreed Teacher's Day to emphasize on the importance of the teaching profession. Over the course of time, teaching methods have quite evolved. A visit to the very ancient caves will surely reveal various walls with the presence of symbols most probably used by the earlier people to teach the next generation. Nevertheless, over the course of time the world has evolved because humankind likes to discover ingenious things that would help him to achieve his day to day tasks in a yet easier way.
There have been several researches into teaching methodologies so as to improve the learning taking place in students, who are of diverse abilities, and differentiated instruction is among one of them. Indeed, there are many types of teaching techniques which could be used to attain specific objectives as set by the educator. In differentiated instruction, the teacher tries to address the learning needs of the individual students based on their individuality and pace of learning rather than teaching to a whole block at one time. Tomlinson (1999), who could be considered to be one of the most influential authors and researchers in the field of differentiated instruction, states that in differentiated classrooms, teachers provide specific ways for each individual to learn as deeply as possible and as quickly as possible, without assuming one student's road map for learning is identical to anyone else's.
According to data gathered from the Mauritius Examinations Syndicate (MES), each year in Mauritius, approximately 26 000 students sit for the Certificate of Primary Education (CPE) examinations and around 3000 of them consisting of boys and girls are admitted to the elite schools also known as the National colleges. A good handful of around 10 000 are admitted to the regional schools and state schools. The remainder of the students find their way to the private secondary schools.
Since Mauritius is poor in natural resources and is mainly a service based economy, it has been a priority of the government to develop the best of human resources for the country so that these could properly be channeled to the appropriate sectors like services, health sector, construction, hotel and agro-industry. A single child left behind and not being able to contribute to the prosperity of the country could be considered to be a waste caused by the current system in place. There is paramount importance attached to the development of the child at the lower secondary level.
1.2 An overview of the research undertaken
When students lack knowledge in certain basic mathematical concepts, educators must review previously taught concepts as well as teach the current curriculum. Mathematics teachers must be prepared to educate a diverse group. This places a tremendous amount of pressure on teachers. Not only do educators have to catch students up in a limited amount of time, but they also must make sure that students are at par to their current level of expected competence. All students have different needs, and hopefully, differentiated instruction will increase student achievement.
My own experience in teaching has shown that students face many difficulties in the topic of equations at the Form II level since it involves algebra. Once confronted to that problem, the student may then develop a fear for that topic and the subject as a whole even beyond the Form II level. Statistics of the MES show that within the past five years, a mere 50 % of students sitting for the Maths School Certificate (SC) exams are able to attain a credit grade. Having a credit grade is highly desirable for many jobs and to undertake further studies.
This dissertation will explore the connection between differentiated instruction and student achievement at Form II level in mathematics in the topic of equations. I will consider this topic because it is the very foundation of mathematics at the lower secondary level. From my own experience, I know that there are countless students who eventually go to higher forms without having properly mastered these basic concepts. Mastery of the basic concepts would ease the task of the educator at a later stage who has students who know the foundation chapters and this could well impact on the performance of the students at SC level.
In my present study, I will use the differentiated method of instruction so as to teach the topic of equations to my Form II students which consist of a single class of 40 students. I will carry out my investigation using action research which is well-suited in educational settings. At the very start of my cycle 1, I will use the direct instruction style so as to teach my students about the basics of equations. Thereafter, I will carry out discussions and problem solving in my class so as to enhance on what I have taught.
The first cycle of the action research will involve group work among students to some extent so that they can increase their knowledge in the topic and that of their peers. I will pass around the class and scaffold wherever necessary as proposed by Vygotsky (1978). A key concept is the zone of proximal development (ZPD), defined as 'the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers' (Vygotsky, 1978, cited in Schunk, 2012, p. 243). The ZPD represents the amount of learning possible by a student given the proper instructional conditions (Puntambekar & H??bscher 2005, cited in Schunk, 2012, p. 243).
During my first cycle, I will collect information on my research mainly by observing the work of students and through questioning. I will carry out a pre-assessment at the very beginning so as to have a better idea on the abilities of my students. Thereafter, I will implement my cycle 2, based on reflection from cycle 1, difficulties encountered in cycle 1 and a change in strategy so as to address those difficulties. At the end of cycle 2, I will do a comprehensive assessment on all aspects of equations with the students so as to assess progress. Thereafter, I will take necessary action so as to bring appropriate modifications. At the end of the cycle 3, I will do a final assessment to conclude the research. A detailed analysis of the performance will be carried out using SPSS software as a statistical aid.
1.3 Researchable areas identified
(i) How do students in Form II go about to solve problems involving equations and nature of difficulties faced by them?
(ii) How will differentiated instruction affect performance of students in the topic of equations?
1.4 Critical selection of research methods
For the research in my proposed area, I plan to use action research. The fundamental aim of action research is to improve practice rather than to produce knowledge. As emphasised by Cohen et al. (2007), action research is a powerful tool for change and improvement at the local level. The combination of action and research has contributed to its attraction to researchers, teachers and the academic and educational community alike.
The scope of action research as a method is impressive. It can be used in almost any setting where a problem involving people, tasks and procedures requires a solution, or where some change of feature results in a more desirable outcome. It can be undertaken by the individual teacher, a group of teachers working cooperatively within one school, or a teacher or teachers working alongside a researcher or researchers in a sustained relationship, possibly with other interested parties like advisers, university departments and sponsors on the periphery (Holly and Whitehead 1986, cited in Cohen et al., 2007, p. 297).
Kember (2000) emphasises that action research is a cyclical or spiral process involving steps of planning, acting, observing and reflecting. It is normal for a project to go through two or more cycles in an iterative process and improvement is brought about a series of cycles, each incorporating lessons from previous cycles. After each cycle of study I have carried out, I have reflected on the difficulties encountered and have made changes accordingly for the forthcoming cycle.
Several attributes separate action research from other types of research. Primary is its focus on turning the people involved into researchers. People learn best, and more willingly apply what they have learned when they do it themselves. Action research also has a social dimension - the research takes place in real-world situations, and aims to solve real problems.
1.5 Outline of the remaining part of the dissertation
Chapter 2 of my dissertation deals with literature review. It gives a critical appraisal on what is differentiated instruction and related issues in the research.
Chapter 3 discusses about methodology and broadly on what is action research and why it is important for the educator. I also discuss ethical considerations involved in research in the educational setting.
Chapter 4 is about detailed implementation of my action research including appropriate lesson plans when the study was carried out.
Chapter 5 discusses the results obtained during the research and a detailed qualitative and quantitative analysis thereto.
Chapter 6 provides a conclusion to this dissertation with appropriate recommendations as well as highlights the limitations on scope of this study.
In this chapter, I discuss what is differentiated instruction and key issues in differentiated instruction. Skills required to lead a differentiated classroom and strategies to manage a differentiated classroom are also going to be elaborated. Implementing differentiated instruction in the classroom and the challenges faced in a differentiated classroom would also be taken on board.
2.1 Differentiated Instruction
According to Tomlinson (1999), today students come to school with a wide range of differences and classrooms are made up of a heterogeneous group of students. This means that in any given classroom there are a range of abilities, learning styles and interests. Teachers have a tough job of meeting each child where they are and then moving them along at their own rate and at their own level of learning.
In the very class where I have conducted my research, there are forty students of diverse family backgrounds. Industrialization in Mauritius and expensive costs of living have taken toll in the family structure. Many of my students have both of their parents going to work with grandparents looking after them when they go home after school. There are also other students whose mother are housewives and the father is most of the times at work which means that they do not have a father figure to relate to as a role model. I am very conversant with the backgrounds of most of my students since I am also a form teacher there and I always take a passionate stand to know my students. I always try to understand the cause if they are having an unusual behaviour. Since I also live in the same village as many of them, I have a good idea of where these students are coming from. I have observed the students interacting with the environment so as to contribute to mould their attitude and behaviour in the classroom.
Tomlinson (1999) defines differentiated instruction as the efforts of teachers to respond to variances among learners in the classroom. Differentiated instruction has well existed in Mauritius when the teacher had to deal with students of several age groups in a single classroom, most particularly in the 1970s when the educational system was not so formalized in Mauritius. This is still being done with the study of oriental languages.
'The biggest mistake of past centuries in teaching has been to treat all children as if they were variants of the same individual, and thus to feel justified in teaching them the same subjects in the same ways.' (Siegel & Shaughnessy 1994, cited in Tomlinson 1999, p.9).This quote emphasizes the importance of teachers understanding the vast differences of their students.
According to Tomlinson (1999), differentiated instruction, also called differentiation, is a process through which teachers enhance learning by matching student characteristics to instruction and assessment. Differentiated instruction allows all students to access the same classroom curriculum by providing entry points, learning tasks, and outcomes that are tailored to students' needs. Differentiated instruction is not a single strategy, but rather an approach to instruction that incorporates a variety of strategies.
The batch of students with whom I am working shows a consistent performance throughout the year. Those who do well in the first term also do well in other terms. However, those who do badly may do so throughout the whole year. This fact has always struck me as I have always felt that my role as a teacher is to make sure that all of my students derive the most from my classes. However, the students are different and some are slow learners or have different learning styles as compared to the traditional expository method that I use in the classroom. Thus, it makes sense to use alternative teaching strategies so as to improve the performance of the students in my class. Nevertheless the expository method, also known as the direct instruction method, also has its own merits since a lot of material can be covered in a short space of time.
According to Tomlinson (2004), many teachers use a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching and learning. They are aware of their content and what products their students must yield. However, they take all the children down the same path, learning the same content, yielding the same projects and assessments. This approach carries little regard for relevant student differences. According to Tomlinson (2004), whenever a teacher reaches out to an individual or small group to vary his or her teaching in order to create the best learning experience possible, that teacher is differentiating instruction.
The figure below summarizes the elements of differentiation:
Figure 2.1: Elements of Differentiation (Tomlinson 1999)
Content means what will be taught to the students, taking into account what they already know. This is why it is necessary to do a pre-assessment of the skill levels of the students so that contents at an appropriate level may be decided for them. I have based myself on several previous assessments carried out on the students as an indicator on how to tailor the differentiated instruction during my research. Whilst I was teaching the topic of equations in my class, I have elaborated them into six types of different level of complexities. I have called them from type 1 to type 6 with type 1 being the easiest ones whilst the type 6 being the hardest but still forming part of the syllabus of Form II Mathematics. I have identified and clustered my students into three tiers and after a common explanation by the expository method, I have given classwork to students based on their ability level ' different questions for the three levels of students. This has ensured that all students have engaged themselves into meaningful work and class discipline has not been a serious issue. Indeed, it is a fact that students are quite submersed into meaningful learning.
Process means the way that the students are made to learn the materials. Some students are more of visual learners, others auditory and some kinesthetic. In some of my lessons, I have used manipulatives so as to appeal to my students who have problem to understand by the expository method. The process of how the material in a lesson is learned may be differentiated for students based on their learning styles. Some students like to acquire knowledge by the use of manipulatives so that they are relating to concrete examples rather than dealing with abstract concepts. Differentiating by process refers to how a student comes to understand and acquire facts, concepts and skills (Anderson, 2007).
Product means the written tests that students produce at the end of the lessons so as to demonstrate on the level of proficiency attained during the lessons. In my research, I have administered the same assessments to all students irrespective of the contents they were taught during the lessons. This has been done so that I could compare the level of attainment of all my students. Product is what the student produces at the end of the lesson to demonstrate the mastery of the content: tests, evaluations and projects. Based on the student skill levels, teachers may assign students to complete activities in a way that the student prefers to allow the students to demonstrate what they have learnt.
Differentiating through the environment is important as it creates the conditions for optimal learning to take place. Environment will support or deter the student's quest for learning in the classroom. (Tomlinson, 2003).
Teachers can differentiate instruction through four ways: content, process, product and learning environment based on the individual learner. The content of the lessons may be differentiated based on what students already know. The most basic content of a lesson covers the standards of learning set as per the syllabus of the Form II curriculum of the Ministry of Education. Some students in my Form II class may be completely unfamiliar with the concepts in a lesson, some students may have partial mastery of the content ' or may have misconceptions about the content, and some students may show mastery of the contents even before the lesson begins.
It is to be noted that there is already some exposure to the topic of equations at the Form I level and some students may have already mastered the concepts while others not since it could be their first encounter with algebra at the secondary school level and they are still finding the concepts too abstract. I have made use of Bloom's Taxonomy so as to design class activities for the students based on their level of competence. Those students who are unfamiliar with the concepts are given questions at the level of knowledge, comprehension and application. Students with partial mastery are given questions at the level of application, analysis and evaluation areas. Students who have high level of mastery are asked to complete tasks at the evaluation and synthesis level.
Based on both research and the realities of contemporary classrooms, it is the responsibility of schools to adjust to children's developmental needs and levels rather than expecting children to adapt to an educational system that fails to address their individual needs and development (LaParo et al. 2000, cited in Tomlinson and McTighe 2006, p. 185). Kadum-Bosnjak and Dobrila (2012) confirmed that the efficiency of mathematics teaching can be affirmed if differentiated instruction is implemented. This form of learning ensures the optimum climate to acquire quality knowledge based on, among other things, a greater mental activity of students and to discern essential links and relations between the studied mathematical contents.
Tomlinson and McTighe (2006) stated that in order for teachers to successfully differentiate instruction to meet the needs of their diverse group of learners, they must use assessments to help guide their instruction. Classroom assessments and grading practices have the potential to not only measure learning and serve as a way to report student learning, but also has the potential and should be used by teachers to promote student learning. In order to achieve maximum performance, students and teachers alike should be utilizing ongoing assessments and continual adjustments to promote student success. In my very own action research, assessments have been infused throughout the cycles so as to have a feel on the level attained by the students. As a result, I have re-allocated the students into new tiers: tier 1 consists of the most able students, tier 2 students are the average students and tier 3 are the students who are having definite problems to keep pace with the contents.
According to Banerjee (2008), curriculum developers, educators and teachers of mathematics over the past many years have been troubled by constant failure of students to understand mathematical concepts, rules, procedures and symbols and the growing anxiety and distaste for mathematics by the end of primary school itself. After 8-10 years of schooling, students fail to learn to think mathematically and use it as a tool for reasoning as well as fail to appreciate the beauty and power of mathematics. This in turn has implications for their future careers where they can no longer enrol in courses which require mathematical proficiency. One of the significant reasons for the failure in the elementary grades, especially in the lower secondary grades, has been considered to be the increasing abstraction of mathematical ideas which may not have concrete referents, and the emergence of symbolic system governed by rigid rules and algorithms giving a sense of arbitrariness to the students. My own experience reveals that students find the study of equations quite problematic at the Form II level because it involves the use of algebra.
Mathematics is one of the most feared subjects in school, yet it is a subject students will need for the rest of their lives (Mink, 2004). Students often struggle with learning mathematics, and teachers have long sought more effective methods for teaching it. Deep conceptual understanding, rather than learning from rote, has never been more important than it is today. Computerization and globalization in today's world means that students need to be problem solvers who can think critically. No longer can students complete secondary school and expect to succeed without these qualities.
In a differentiated classroom, the learning goals are clear, there is a strong link between assessment and instruction, flexible grouping is used, individual growth is emphasized, teachers set high expectations for both themselves and their students, and lastly teachers ensure that differentiation is used to challenge students and help them succeed rather than to be used to make the content easier for students.
Another important step, and possibly the first step on the road to differentiating instruction, is first making sure that you know what goals you want to achieve (Tomlinson, 1999). Schools must have a solid, approved upon, core curriculum that is guaranteed and viable. In order for teachers to start teaching they must know where they want to end up before they start out and then devise a plan for how to get there. However, for the purpose of my study, at the beginning of the research sessions, I properly briefed and informed all the students about the teaching mode that was going to take place as they may have never encountered such type of teaching before. I also appealed for their collaboration.
According to Tomlinson (2001), most, if not all, teachers would agree with the statement that differentiation seems a common-sense approach to addressing the needs of a wide variety of learners, promoting equity and excellence and focusing on best practice instruction in mixed-ability classrooms. However, when we go into the classroom of many educators we find that they are utilizing a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching rather than differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all students. This is mainly because they are unaware of differentiated instruction techniques. Research shows that differentiating instruction is a very challenging task. Teachers require support from their administration in order to be successful in their efforts of meeting the needs of all learners.
As already mentioned before, differentiation of content refer to a change in the material being learned by a student. For example, if the classroom objective is for all students to subtract using renaming, some of the students may learn to subtract two digit numbers, while others may learn to subtract larger numbers in the context of word problems. Differentiation of process refers to the way in which a student accesses material. One student may explore a learning centre, while another student collects information from the web. The action research I have done was on equations and I have been able to identity six different levels of equation solving which range from the easiest to the hardest. During my beginning classes, I allocated the easier problems to the students of lower ability and the hardest ones to the students of higher ability. I always ensure that all students were engaged into meaningful work and consequently there were fewer disruptions during the sessions and the students were taking interest into what they were doing.
Biancarosa and Snow (2004) point to a statistic that should cause all middle grade, middle school, and high school educators to rethink their instructional practices. They note:
'A full 70 percent of U.S. middle and high school students require differentiated instruction, which is instruction targeted to their individual strengths and weaknesses.'
According to Pappano (2011), differentiated instruction is not always effective. This is mainly because the process of tiering a worksheet with problems is not appreciated by all students. Some students do not like to see their friends having a different worksheet with altogether different sets of questions on it. From the educators point of view, there are arguments that it is too time consuming to prepare for a differentiated classroom. Schmoker (2011), is of the view that differentiated instruction has 'corrupted both curriculum and effective instruction' by requiring so much of a single classroom teacher.
Tomlinson (2001) however emphasizes that teachers must assess students' readiness, interests, and learning profile well enough to understand their needs in relation to specific lessons or learning goals, and should use knowledge in selecting approaches to best help each child learn. Research on the effectiveness of differentiation is difficult to do because it involves the use of many strategies at once, Pappano (2011). I have sufficiently screened my students for readiness, interests, and learning profile based on their Maths grades at the CPE exams, performance in the class during the first term and current performance in the class. I ensured a proper know-how of the students before I embarked on my studies.
The study of equations has proved to be quite challenging to students of Form II. This is because they have just been called upon to handle some abstract algebra. To solve equations imply using many steps and manipulations properly so that the correct results are obtained.
According to Breiteig and Grevholm (2006), secondary school students may work with the algebraic concept of symbols used to represent variables but without a proper understanding of what variables actually represent. The leap from arithmetical calculations involving manipulation of numbers to alphabets used to represent any number is viewed as quite tremendous. Thus, the students may develop skills in routine manipulations, based on the knowledge, that variables follow the same basic structures as do number calculations. What is special for algebra, and different from arithmetic, however, is so fundamental that it may represent a leap in the education. The complexity of algebra has been attributed to syntactic inconsistencies with arithmetic, such as the following: a variable may simultaneously represent many numbers, the letter may be chosen freely, the absence of positional value, equality as an equivalence relation, the invisible multiplication sign, the priority rules and use of parentheses.
Differentiation of product refers to the way in which a student shows what he or she has learned. For example, to demonstrate understanding of a geometric concept, one student may solve a problem set, while another builds a model. When teachers differentiate, they do so in response to a student's readiness, interest, and/or learning profile. Readiness refers to the skill level and background knowledge of the child. Interest refers to topics that the student may want to explore or that will motivate the student. This can include interests relevant to the content area as well as outside interests of the student. Finally, a student's learning profile includes learning style (i.e., a visual, auditory, tactile, or kinesthetic learner), grouping preferences (i.e., individual, small group, or large group), and environmental preferences (i.e., lots of space or a quiet area to work). A teacher may differentiate based on any one of these factors or any combination of factors (Tomlinson, 1999). I have differentiated instruction based mainly on the readiness of the students and by creating the tiered-level groups.
2.2 Key Issues in Differentiated Instruction
As stated by Tomlinson (1999), some of the key ideas about differentiation are that the teacher focuses on the essentials, the teacher attends to student differences and assessment and instruction are inseparable. In a differentiated classroom, assessment is ongoing and diagnostic. Its goal is to provide teachers day-to-day data on students' readiness for particular ideas and skills, their interests, and their learning profiles. The formative assessment may come from small-group discussion with the teacher and a few students, whole-class discussion, journal entries, portfolio entries, exit cards, skill inventories, pretests, homework assignments, student opinion, or interest surveys. All my lessons were based on the essential concepts that the students need to know in equations. The students already have a loaded curriculum at the Form II level and it would be futile to stray away from the topic at hand when we know that the students would be able to remember but very little of what have been taught once they leave the classroom.
The teacher modifies content, process and products. All students participate in respectful work. In differentiated classrooms, certain essential understandings and skills are goals for all learners. However, some students need repeated experiences to master them, and other students master them swiftly. The teacher in a differentiated classroom understands that he does not show respect for students by ignoring their learning differences. He continually tries to understand what individual students need to learn most effectively, and he attempts to provide learning options that are a good fit for each learner whenever he can.
The teacher and students collaborate in learning. Together, teacher and students plan, set goals, monitor progress, analyse successes and failures, and seek to multiply the successes and learn from failures. Some decisions apply to the class as a whole. Others are specific to an individual. A differentiated classroom is, of necessity, student-centred. Students are the workers. The teacher balances group and individual norms. I have done so accordingly depending on the assessment results of the students.
At the very beginning of my research, I was reluctant to use the differentiated instruction technique as I had never done so before. At the school we have a tight syllabus to complete with limited time and most teachers are often compelled to complete the syllabus otherwise face queries from administration. There are several types of constraints at the school and the teacher is not really free to do what he wishes to do. There are strict deadlines that have to be made and the instructions from management have to be abided by strictly and followed accordingly. However, once I have started with my research, I have been overwhelmed by the positive response of the student and the management. My school management has been quite supportive.
2.3 Strategies to manage a Differentiated Classroom
A differentiated classroom is not the same as a traditional classroom and this has to be borne in mind. Even before engaging into differentiated instruction, the teacher should have thought on the strategies to manage the differentiated classroom otherwise total chaos could result. On the very first sessions of my differentiated classes, I was facing some discipline problems as I had to allocate students to different places. This involving re-arranging the structure of the class and some of my students were so playful as to pull the chairs and tables on the floor. This was generating quite a bit of noise and disturbing the nearby classes. I firmly intervened and made it clear to the students that they should lift up the tables softly. The message went through and the class was settled down rapidly. Subsequently, I did not have much problems as the students had become accustomed to the exercise and they knew what was being expected of them.
Tomlinson (2001) identifies some basic strategies to manage a differentiated classroom as follows:
(i) Have a strong rationale for differentiating instruction based on student readiness, interest, and learning profile.
(ii) Begin differentiating at a pace that is comfortable for you.
(iii) Create and deliver instructions carefully.
(iv) Assign students into groups or seating areas smoothly.
(v) Be sure students have a plan for getting help when you're busy with another student or group.
(vi) Minimize noise.
(vii) Make a plan for students to turn in work.
(viii) Teach students to rearrange the furniture.
(ix) Have a plan for 'quick finishers.'
2.4 Implementing Differentiated Instruction in the classroom
According to Tomlinson (1999), when differentiated style of instruction in the classroom is contemplated, before beginning instruction, teachers should do three things:
1. Use diagnostic assessments to determine student readiness. These assessments can be formal or informal. Teachers can give pretests, question students about their background knowledge, or use KWL charts (charts that ask students to identify what they already Know, what they Want to know, and what they have Learned about a topic). I have used the previous results profiles of my students as a diagnostic assessment. I have done a preassessment to check on the level of ability of the students prior to starting. I am also aware of their level of interactions in the classroom and most particularly, how they perform when I send them to the blackboard during the correction of homework and classwork.
2. Determine student interest. This can be done by using interest inventories and/or including students in the planning process. Teachers can ask students to tell them what specific interests they have in a particular topic, and then teachers can try to incorporate these interests into their lessons.
3. Identify student learning styles and environmental preferences. Learning styles can be measured using learning style inventories. Teachers can also get information about student learning styles by asking students how they learn best and by observing student activities. Identifying environmental preferences includes determining whether students work best in large or small groups and what environmental factors might contribute to or inhibit student learning. For example, a student might need to be free from distraction or have extra lighting while he or she works. I have thoroughly used observation throughout my research and kept entries into my notebook for further planning. I have been able to collect several information about my students.
The importance of taking learning styles in consideration is questionable as pointed out by Landrum and McDuffie (2010). Differentiation provides one framework for individualizing in the context of a heterogeneous classroom. Focusing on students' learning styles adds little, if anything, of educational benefit to this process. Nevertheless, I have tried to take into account as much of the learning styles of the students for differentiating instruction.
Teachers incorporate different instructional strategies based on the assessed needs of their students. Throughout a unit of study, teachers should assess students on a regular basis. This assessment can be formal, but is often informal and can include taking anecdotal notes on student progress, examining students' work, and asking the student questions about his or her understanding of the topic. The results of the assessment could then be used to drive further instruction. I have kept detailed account of the performance of my students throughout all the sessions so as to have a feel on the level of proficiency they are developing.
According to Tomlinson (1999), teachers accept that learners differ in important ways and they must be ready to engage students in instruction through different learning modalities, by appealing to different interests, and by using varied rates of instruction along with varied degrees of complexity. In the differentiated classroom
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