Differentiated instruction is a great tool in the class. Heather mentioned that students should struggle before help is given. That really hit a nerve for me. I replied that one of the most frustrating things I encounter in teaching (Algebra specifically, but any other upper level math content) is the idea that if my students need help, they don’t take the time to struggle with the problem. In my observation, kids don’t take the time to struggle. They give up way before they begin to sweat. This is a mindset that students need to change. I encourage trial and error, and tell students to think about the several ways to solve a problem. It is okay to walk away from a problem, but it needs to be tackled later, with renewed vigor, and sometimes it does take VIGOR. One of the strategies I have adopted in recent years is providing students with answers from assignments. In math, I think it’s really important to do this. Students are expected to work out problems, then check their answers. Do all students take advantage? No. Cheat by just copying? Yes. But I repeatedly remind students that especially in math, it’s more important to know “how” to solve a problem. They will get no benefit from just copying answers. By the way, I give credit for just doing the assignment. I don’t “grade” them at all. Alice Keeler would be proud of me! 🙂
On the other end of the spectrum is my Statistics class. I mentioned to Josie that I think an upper level math that is relatively quiet during a lesson can be very deceptive. I have come across this behavior for several years now. I can go step by step teaching a concept in statistics, and the class appears to be listening, paying close attention to detail, writing notes, copying important information down, and participating in questioning and answer sessions. Well, when it comes down to identifying and being able to solve problems we have just learned about, I get silence, and if there are responses, they are generally incorrect, and I need to probe them more to get the correct answer. Is it possible to differentiate in this situation? Is there any strategy to combat silence? I know the students are being respectful, but at the same time, these students are seniors, ready to enter post secondary education. I want to think that I’m not a “hard a**” teacher that will snap at students for providing incorrect/correct responses and belittle them, but I wonder about why they are so quiet. I do encourage dialogue and state that I will respect their responses and hope I don’t hurt feelings. I do admit I have made students cry in class! I don’t know how! (Well, in perspective, they cry about their grades, not about how I treated them.)
Differentiation is a path that will enhance student learning and I suppose I need to incorporate more strategies to help students in the class. I am not a die-hard differentiated instructor, but do incorporate some strategies that help students. This course will assist me I’m sure.