Essential question: How do we prepare parents for differentiation in the classroom?

 

In the same way teachers need to learn about Differentiated Instruction, DI, parents need to know about DI. We start out teaching parents with the definition of DI. As Tomlinson states it as, “Differentiation can be defined as a way of teaching in which teachers proactively modify curriculum, teaching methods, resources, learning activities, and student products. The needs of individual students and/or small groups of students are addressed to maximize the learning opportunity for each student in the classroom.”

We need to explain to the parent why we DI in our classroom. Parents need to understand that we have a myriad of learning abilities and styles in our classroom. This brings students that are bored, therefore not challenged or overwhelmed by the tasks at hand, which creates anxiety. With DI we can meet the learners at their level and challenge them to progress into a successful learner.

Parents need to know that DI is the following, according to Foucault:

  • “Having high expectations for all students
  • Adjustment of the core content
  • Assigning activities geared to different learning styles, interests, and levels of thinking
  • Providing students with choices about what and how they learn
  • Flexible because teachers move students in and out of groups based upon students’ instructional needs
  • Acknowledgment of individual needs
  • Articulated, high level goals reflecting continuous progress
  • Assessment to determine student growth and new needs
  • Adjustment of curriculum by complexity, breadth, and rate
  • Educational experiences which extend, replace, or supplement standard curriculum

Differentiation is not…

  • Individual learning plans for each student
  • More problems, questions, or assignments
  • Get it on your own
  • Recreational reading
  • Independent reading without curriculum connections
  • Free time to draw or practice your talent
  • Cooperative learning groups where the gifted kid gets to be the leader
  • Activities that all students will be able to do
  • Interest centers unless linked to core content and at a complex level”

Parents need to be taught because it is their children we are educating and they have rights to know what is going on in the classroom of their children. Parents don’t just have a right to know they have a right to question our classroom where their child resides.

We need to invite parents in to see the classroom and experience it.  DI is new to them and they want to learn about their child’s environment at school. Once you have the parents in the classroom and they should see that their child is being supported and the parents can relax and enjoy the atmosphere of the classroom.

When parents don’t understand about DI we can use Tomlinson (42)  points of how DI benefits their children.

  • The goal of DI is to challenge everyone to grow from their own starting point.
  • Teachers will assess and monitors the students so they know their skill levels and challenges them using effective learning ways.
  • The DI lesson reflects the teachers understanding of the students needs to grow. This will evolve with the needs of the students as they grow.
  • Parents are always welcome to come to the classroom and talk about their student. Parents and Teachers have great perspectives to share with each other. The teachers see the student through potential in developmental benchmarks, while the parent sees the students more intimately through interests, feelings and change.
  • As a DI teacher, our goal is to become a more independent learner.

As teachers we have to be listeners and this especially applies to parents. When their students are advanced in their skills the parents have an urgency to tell their story (Tomlinson, 42). The more you are informed about your students from different perspectives it gives you more insight to the students. Also, by hearing the parent’s perspective gives you insight about the home life of the student. As you listen to the parents share their story it will help you see how the classroom can become a better fit for the student. We have to keep in mind that parents want their student challenged and yet want a guarantee that the challenge will not create a failure. Teachers need to reassure the parents that the goal isn’t to fail the student, but to teach them to rise up to the challenge and develop a work ethic that would bring satisfaction to them. It isn’t about the assignments given to students, it is about building character in each student.

Students will be given different levels of work and may appear harder than others. Teachers need to be prepared for parents to question this in the DI classroom. The answer is simpler to explain than to do.   Students are all working at their own level. What might be easy for one student is hard for another. The teacher’s job is to challenge each individual and not overwhelm them.

We need to inform our parents about what is going on in our classrooms. Eidson offers great questions for parents to ask.

  • “How are you finding out about what my child already knows and can already do?
  • What kind of information would you like me to provide as you learn more about my child?
  • How are you ensuring that my child is being challenged in his or her daily work and assignments?
  • If my child already knows a lot about a particular topic and has clearly mastered the associated skills, what other possibilities exist for him or her?
  • How is my child growing in this subject area?”

As teachers we need to care about the growth for all students. We need to proactively respond to students’ needs as that matches their abilities, learning styles, and interest. This has to be balanced with challenging and making it successful for all learners.

Challenging students is a great thing for preparing students for a lifetime learner. Eidson bring up a great point when students are complaining that it is too hard, in reality they are in a good position to learn. If they are bored and the work is too easy they are going unchallenged and this lack of challenge can hurt their ability to learn. Not every thing should come easy to them. Teachers will make mistakes and push too hard on a student and adjustments must be made.

Eidson tells parents that students should be in a variety of groups, so parents should be hearing how they work with different students throughout the year. The same students should not be teaching other students nor should they be teaching themselves. They should be put into a variety of groups so that they are taking on different roles. Students must be continuously assessed and this brings a variety of teaching and learning strategies that keeps advancing the students through to higher levels of learning. With tiered assignments teachers can offer the same skill with the same material but at different ability levels so all learners in the classroom can be challenged and progress in the same classroom.

DI in the classroom changes the way parents remember school and it is new to many teachers. As we learn to DI in our classrooms our students will learn how to take a challenge and they will learn how to take on challenges in life.

Reference:

Eidson, C. (2008) What Every Parent Should Know About Differentiated Instruction.Duke    TIP. Retrieved February 2016 from https://tip.duke.edu/node/910

Foucault, A. (2008) Differentiation tips for parents. Reading Rockers. Retrieved February 2016 from http://www.readingrockets.org/article/differentiation-tips-parents

Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms. Alexandria, VA, USA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development (ASCD). Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com

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