Respecting different ways students learn
Teachers rewarded for differentiated learning methods.
If students don’t march to the beat of the majority, they’re often pegged as different.
Respecting those differences, and tailoring curriculum to meet individual needs, has paid off for two District 20 teachers who teach students this way.
High school English teacher Roxanne Whiting and speech language pathologist Carol Keiser received a grant from the John Russell Applegate Fund for Teachers.The $3,500 grant will send them to Florida in January to learn more about the teaching method, known as differentiated learning, and to pass that knowledge on to local and area teachers.
Administrators showed up in their senior English class recently to surprise the teachers, and their students, with news they received the grant.
Student Misty Gage said Whiting and Keiser have opened her eyes.
“They made me realize that a lot of things are important, things that I never realized were,” Gage said.
After an introduction to the concept, Whiting wanted to use the strategy in her classroom and got started with Keiser’s help.
The teachers began doing more team teaching and discovering ways that allow students to approach learning in different ways.
Differentiated learning, Whiting explained, focuses on process and product.
In tackling the reading of a required book, for example, Whiting said students choose different ways to get through the process whether it’s reading the book aloud, or on their own or by watching a DVD of the story.
“They’re getting the same input but in different ways,” Whiting said. “Differentiated learning is how we grasp and utilize information in a way that’s effective.”
To make sure students understand what they’ve read, watched or listened to, she said they may write an essay about the book or present a report in class or use technology to produce a multi-media presentation.
Students who struggle with language, Whiting said, may take a test with shorter sentences, or fewer options, than a student who is more proficient in language use.
Keiser said some choose to express their thoughts by recording themselves or scheduling a time to communicate face to face with their teachers.
Expectations of what students need to accomplish for a certain grade are clearly stated, she said.
For example, some students may do what is necessary to receive a passing grade rather than shooting for an A or B.
“Some kids have to prioritize because they’re living on their own and have many responsibilities like a job,” Keiser pointed out.
Both Whiting and Keiser talked about the need for differentiated instruction because of how society has changed.
“Our educational system is fashioned after an assembly line in a factory,” Keiser said. “The kids move through the system, while each part is attached, and when they come out on the other side, the whole product should be in place.”
However Keiser said some students need different parts to reach their potential.
“For some, that’s finding a different avenue to grasp a basic concept,” she explained. “For others, it’s being challenged to think beyond the basic concept.”
Keiser described differentiated learning as a move forward to where different people learn differently is respected and they are given the opportunity to be successful.
Today’s students are exposed to more technology and media than ever before. Sitting in a classroom and listening to a teacher lecture doesn’t always work, Whiting said.
“You have to treat each student like an individual person,” she explained.
Respect for differences is also taught as evidenced by what senior Lonna Foster shared.
“Some people are not accepting of how I read slow,” she said. “Mrs. Whiting told them she didn’t appreciate treating people disrespectfully.”
What the teachers have done for students, however, goes beyond the classroom.
When Gage couldn’t attend school for awhile after having a baby, Gage said Whiting went to her house and helped her with homework.
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