The key to quickly establish effective differentiated instruction classroom is preparation. Differentiated instruction is an educational theory that employs multiple teaching approaches in the same classroom to accommodate the variety of aptitudes, needs, personalities and experiences of individual students. Because the teacher cannot fully know his students before they arrive, teacher preparation includes effective diagnostic tools and a flexibly structured classroom to quickly match activities to individual students.
Differentiated instruction is not a differentiated curriculum. Teachers are still obliged to teach a subject with particular essential content. The teacher needs to quickly familiarize himself with individual students, identify aspects of the curriculum that are adaptable to differentiated instruction, settle on techniques and match techniques to individual students, and assess his own capacity to administer and supervise the activities. Three essential tools in this set-up process are learning style inventories, Bloom's taxonomy of intellectual behavior and a chart of Gardner's eight intelligences.
Learning Style Inventory
The learning style inventory is a list of prepared questions or structured observations that assesses the student for preferred learning styles. The three categories of learning style are visual, auditory and tactile. Teachers will want to prepare a learning style inventory chart for students before the students arrive in class. Visual learners will respond well to films, pictures, flash cards, maps and written material. Auditory learners will respond well to recordings, the spoken word and reciting aloud. Tactile learners will respond well to touching objects and other direct sensory inputs, as well as writing and taking notes. These styles are not mutually exclusive, but knowing students' individual learning style biases helps the teacher design activities that best reinforce the curriculum for each student.
Teachers also need to quickly determine the stage of development of intellectual behavior for each student. Bloom's taxonomy is a schematic representation of intellectual behavior stages that gives the teacher criteria for observation. The stages, from earliest to latest, are remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating. Bloom's taxonomy allows the teacher to tailor activities for the student to the next level of cognition. If the student demonstrates the ability to analyze material, for example, then activities can be oriented toward learning how to evaluate.
Gardner's Eight Intelligences
The teacher in a differentiated classroom also needs an inventory of techniques. One guideline for the development of a diverse set of techniques is known as Gardner's eight intelligences. Educational theorist Howard Gardner suggested that there are eight distinct types of intelligence: linguistic, logical-mathematic, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, inter-personal and intra-personal. Corresponding activities, respectively, might be writing, math operations, singing, sports activity, puzzles, group problem-solving and drawing up plans.
The Physical Classroom
In addition to a ready system for evaluating and charting activities for individuals and groups in the differentiated classroom, the teacher needs a physical space that provides a flexible and dynamic setting. Comfortable desks, tables for collective activity, combination dry-erase and film-projection boards, adjustable lighting, individual storage and filing space, electronic equipment, and a wide array of books, films, recordings, flash cards, transparencies, paper, scissors, erasable pens, washable paint, easels, and other supporting materials, give the teacher the physical wherewithal to rapidly differentiate his instruction.
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