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.