Differentiated Instruction: Observations of a Preservice Teacher

I’m very lucky to be a big part of the Digital Internship Project. The Digital Internship Project is a government-sponsored project which enables my colleagues and I to connect our preservice teachers to tools, resources and ideas related to the integration of technology and media in the classroom. For instance, we are able to provide each of our interns with a laptop, assorted hardware and software (e.g, digital video cameras, projectors, interactive whiteboards), an online collaborative community and formal professional development opportunities. The project isn’t perfect, but it has come a long way, and I’m happy to see the insights, abilities and growth evident in our interns as they become practicing teachers.

I was able to observe Tyler, one of these interns, about a week ago. Tyler is teaching physics and math, and I am happy to say that I am very impressed with his work so far. Here’s why:

Tyler prepared a lessons on waves. Students gathered in available spaces using real coils, observing wave patterns, writing and analyzing their results. Pretty standard so far. As we went back into the classroom, Tyler had a number of approaches to simulate and model the same phenomenon. He used various applets and videos to help explain wave interference. He had students create an iMovie video to record the motion of waves in water. He posted all of these resources to his course wiki. Beyond the use of the newer technologies, Tyler also engaged in the use of the chalkboard and even the overhead projector.

Obviously, using many different tools doesn’t automatically make a lesson great. This fact alone does not engage students. What was important in all of this was how Tyler moved from one resource to the next in response to his students questioning or their lack of understanding. Tyler’s movement from chalkboard, to applet, to wiki, to overhead, etc., demonstrated a deep empathy with the needs of his learners. Simply stated, Tyler was able to choose the most appropriate tool, at the correct moment, in order to engage students and help them best understand very difficult concepts.

While it’s not a new concept, this was a wonderful example of differentiated instruction.

Differentiating instruction means creating multiple paths so that students of different abilities, interest or learning needs experience equally appropriate ways to absorb, use, develop and present concepts as a part of the daily learning process. It allows students to take greater responsibility and ownership for their own learning, and provides opportunities for peer teaching and cooperative learning.

This is a skill that is very difficult, if possible, to master. I’m feeling very good to know that it’s happening in our young teacher population. I’m happy to know that the wise use of technology can help make these experiences happen.

2 thoughts on “Differentiated Instruction: Observations of a Preservice Teacher

  1. Differentiated instruction is best when it is made available in multimodal formats, as Tyler as has been able to do. These tools offer affordances that classic textbook and chalkboard instruction do not. He also fostered a situation where students become co-creators of the content – the best way for students to truly internalize their learning.
    So many of the tools that are available to create this kind of classroom instruction is free and readily available for teachers. Unfortunately, many (even most, I daresay?) are not aware of these tools OR are not able to access them because of filtering policies and other bureaucratic hurdles that prevent teachers from having access to the tools (e.g. laptops, projectors).
    Is the Digital Internship Project sponsored by provincial or federal grants? I would love to hear more….
    Thanks for sharing, Alec – we need to hear more of the success stories and I am particularly pleased that the needs of pre-service teachers are being addressed.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Sharon. You bring up some really important issues regarding filtering and other barriers to access. This has been one of my biggest struggles and one I love to find creative ways to get around. See “freedom sticks” – http://educationaltechnology.ca/couros/656 . I just wish we wouldn’t have to play these games and could focus on helping teachers, students, parents (all digital citizens) become collaborative filters and make wise decisions around content they consume and produce.

    The digital internship project is going on almost two years in its current incarnation via provincial funding. Previous to that, we have a few years of funding via SchoolNet/Industry Canada. Ive also been able to secure some corporate funding on the condition that it would be a “no-strings” deal. It’s been going very well and the conversations we’ve had with these students and their cooperating teachers have been very positive so far. We will be releasing a major report sometime in March on this phase, and we hope to expand in the near future.

    Feel free to join us at digitalinterns.ca.

    All the best, and thanks again for the conversation.

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