Classrooms today are tremendously different from the traditional makeup. They range from the general student to special needs, from high achievers to underachievers, from motivated to disengaged students, technology is becoming a primary staple in the education system. The role technology plays in schools increases the likelihood of academic success by empowering students to take ownership of their efforts and results, initiate creativity, grant access to immediate research and activities, and expand the amount of resources to meet the need of every student.
The use of technology, as an instrument for differentiation, enables teachers to engage students at their current level and through varying the rate of instruction, complexity levels, students are challenged and given an opportunity to grow academically and socially. Differentiated instruction also allows teachers work “smarter, not necessarily “harder” to meet the needs of such a diverse student population.?
Differentiated instruction allows teachers to utilize an entire toolbox of methods and instruments to meet the needs of all students from the general classroom to those with special needs. This “toolbox” includes innovations and ideas that guide the qualitative and/or quantitative methods that improve the education experience for all learners. Basic differentiation involves implementing numerous intellectual tools such as low and preparation strategies. Low-prep strategies vary the level of critical thinking questions, empower the student to choose the path that motivates them most based on interest, while high-prep strategies consist of more challenging tasks such as orbital studies and “think-tac-toe boards.” Mixing these strategies with more high-tech tools such as hardware, software, and other applications creates a learning environment conducive to the academic success of every student. The hardware, software and other applications can be summarized as technology. Technology can make the education process more efficient, more effective, and more relevant
The education system must adapt to incorporating technology because diversity is increasing. School diversity is no longer separated by race, religion, gender, etc., it now includes children who are high and low achievers, different socio-economic backgrounds, as well as children with disabilities. Differentiated instruction is a method through which teachers can reach every child. It is a flexible teaching method where lessons are individualized based on what the student needs and is carried out in several ways that affects the overall learning environment in the classroom. In the video by Carol Ann Tomlinson named, “Differentiation and the Brain,” she spells out several non-negotiables of differentiated instruction that include expert teaching, creative learning environment, polished curriculum, flexible structure, teaching up to higher standards by using formative assessments consistently and modifying activities along the way. Technology is an effective tool that empowers the teacher’s ability to differentiate the classroom. According to Tomlinson (2014), assessment and instruction are inseparable and teachers and students must work together throughout the learning process. Through technology, assessment and instruction can be accomplished simultaneously.
In addition, Tomlinson (2014) states that differentiation occurs in one or more of the following areas; content, process, products. In other words, the “what,” “how,” and “why” of the curriculum can be adjusted toward each student’s learning style. Presenting auditory and visual lessons are inevitable because when students see and hear information at the same time, they develop more thoughts and will be more engaged in the classroom. Auditory and visual lessons along with formative assessments are made possible through the use of smartboards, personal computers, special software and hearing devices. Without these forms of technology, it would be difficult to meet the needs of exceptional students with physical disabilities. Many special needs students are placed in the general classroom creating the need for schools to invest in new tools properly resource inclusive classrooms. In an inclusive classroom, some students may be high achievers while others may not be as advanced, however, every student must be active participants in the classroom. High achieving students may work on more challenging tasks while the teacher can work individually with exceptional learners. Technology is not necessarily a “baby sitting” tool teachers use so they can focus on underachievers, instead, it allows high performers to practice independent learning skills while other needs are being met in the diversified classroom. The amount of time teachers spend on a student vary, however, the teacher must provide support for struggling learners while encouraging the more advanced.
Researchers and other experts have difficulty defining and determining root causes of many disabilities which culminates in general classrooms containing special needs students. If there is a particular exceptional learner in a general classroom, the teacher should refer to the Individualized Education Program (IEP). Individualized Education Programs help students to achieve academic goals more easily. They focus on the student’s specific needs and provides a path to success for both the student and teacher (Hallahan ; Kauffman 2012).
Technology is an essential component of the education system and the society. Classrooms and school supply lists that were once full of pens, pencils, and notebooks, are now containing, laptops, tablets, flash memory and “cloud” services such as Google Classroom and Microsoft 365. These elements provide a digital mode of learning and education. It implements creativity, exploration and potential growth. Students are able to use their creativity and make their own choices in academics, resulting in decreased direct instruction and increased independent learning. “Personalization refers to instruction that is paced to learning needs, tailored to learning preferences, and tailored to the specific interests of different learners. In an environment that is fully personalized, the learning objectives and content as well as the method and pace may all vary.” (U.S. Department of Education, 2010).
The use of technology in the classroom has the potential to help teachers more effectively meet the needs of gifted students without sacrificing their efforts to help other students. Gifted students often need to be taught entirely different than their peers. Gardner and Hatch (1989) indicate that students with multiple intelligences, “gifted,” excel in specific areas and it is best to instruct within these areas to allow the student to grow while challenging other aspects where the
student is not gifted. For example, advanced math skills can be developed through free online resources such as IXL and the Khan Academy, opening opportunities that go beyond the standard curriculum. New and innovative technology simplifies differentiation, because not only can the content students are learning be differentiated, but also the tasks that students are asked to complete. In the video, “Differentiated Instruction (History Lesson)”, the teacher utilized key components such as flexible grouping, hands-on activities, critical thinking and consistent assessment. The lesson had clear goals, activities and direction, however, technology would have taken her great lesson and improved upon it through the use of immediate research and feedback. Overall, Curriculum can be made easier or harder based on students’ assessments and feedback allowing for various academic and social skills to be developed. For example, classroom discussion boards can replace written papers that were once meant for the teacher only can now help develop a significant and more relevant audience as they collaborate and communicate with each other, showcasing their talents. Technology enables average to below average learners the ability to improve academic performance while simultaneously empowering more advanced students to take their understanding and skills to higher levels. The classroom becomes a win-win relationship through technology and as more and more educators and students embrace differentiation, the limits to academic excellence are endless.
Whether or not educators embrace differentiation or not, technology will bring forth innovative learning methods that can be adapted to virtually every environment. Tomlinson (2014) states that future education has bold initiatives and our system cannot look at the past as a failure because if it was not for our past, we would not be in this position today. The best
assignment in this class, for me, was the first one. In this assignment, we discussed our teaching beliefs and background. This opened the door toward evaluating our current thoughts while allowing the new approach of differentiation, specifically through technology, to begin reshaping the future classroom.