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Faculty of Education
Department of English Language and Literature
Practical Use of Differentiated Instruction
at Czech Schools
Marcela Létalová Dr. Rita Chalmers Collins, Ed.D.
I declare that I wrote the bachelor thesis myself and used only the sources mentioned in the enclosed bibliography.
I agree that the thesis will be deposited in the library of the Faculty of Education at Masaryk University in Brno and made available for academic purposes.
Brno, 17th April 2008 ……………………..
I would like to thank my supervisor for providing me with invaluable help, advice, suggestions, unceasing optimism and patience.
Table of contents
II.Theoretical part 7
2.1. Definition 9
2.2. How does differentiated instruction work 10
2.3.What is differentiated instruction based on 14
3.1. General principles 16
3.2. Assessment 17
3.3. Multiple intelligences 17
3.4. Bloom’s taxonomy 19
3.5. Flexible instructional grouping 21
3.6. Tiered assignment 22
III.Practical part 25
This thesis concerns the strategy of differentiated instruction and its use in courses of English at Czech schools. The aim of my thesis is to find out how the English teachers work, if they are familiar with possibilities of the strategy and to provide eventual solutions how to plan and organize English lessons to create them more effectively and how to help all learners to be successful in their learning.
The thesis is divided into two parts. The theoretical part introduces differentiated instruction in general, its principles, methods and approaches to learners according to their specific needs, interests and peculiarities. My intention is to show options that the strategy offers to teachers how to touch all learners, the weaker as well as the talented ones.
The practical part is based on a small research conducted with twenty teachers of English at Czech schools. The research was realised by a small questionnaire inquiring about the ability of interviewees to involve all learners into the process of learning in an appropriate way.
The reason why I decided to write about this topic is my personal experience of teaching diverse groups of learners and subsequent facing up to the problems how to cover all essential aspects of learning so that all students have a chance to choose the most convenient way of working. Nevertheless, my most important goal is to demonstrate that there exists a possibility to reach all kinds of learners in the mixed classes, and encourage teachers to adopt differentiated instruction as an integral part of their work.
II. Theoretical part
1. Why differentiated instruction
Contemporary school systems in advanced countries all over the world demand completely new approach to learners and teaching. The typical lessons with teacher’s monologues, stressful testing, memorising quantities of facts and one-size-fits-all approach to education are not appropriate ways of teaching any more. The teacher is supposed to respect learners’ personalities, recognise distinctions between them, find out their strongest and weakest points and base the cooperation with children on this knowledge. The goal of every teacher’s work should be to support all learners in their interests and activities they feel to be strong and good in and, at the same time, to motivate them to improve and work on their weaker points. The teacher is obliged to use such activities that learners would pay attention to and simultaneously would not be bored. This means that study materials, instruction, timing, evaluation and other elements used by the teacher ought to be challenging enough for talented students but may not be too difficult and unmanageable for weaker ones.
The differentiated instruction is an efficient method of reaching all of these requirements. It offers a wide spectrum of means that enable learners to develop their talents, interests, abilities and skills into their greatest extent, raises creativity and promotes higher cognitive functions. The strategy supports independent and self-directed learning and motivates students to be more active and responsible, to achieve better results, to surpass themselves. (Kernes)
The teachers are helped to focus on necessary curriculum, to fulfil its demands in a meaningful way and to base organization of instruction on a convenient assessment. Differentiation affords numerous learning opportunities by providing various learning experiences to learners. It allows integrating information in the right way and facilitates checks of its understanding. The very important fact is that, because of the individual approach, possibility of choice and diverse instructions, the strategy aids diminish anxiety and stress. (Differentiated Instruction)
2. What is differentiated instruction
There are many possible definitions describing differentiated instruction. Let me provide at least a few of them:
Differentiated instruction is an instructional concept that maximizes learning for all students – regardless of skill level or background. It is based on the fact that in a typical classroom, students vary in their academic abilities, learning styles, personalities, interests, background knowledge and experiences, and levels of motivation for learning. (Differentiated Instruction)
Differentiated instruction is a philosophy of teaching and learning that embraces and integrates the very best of curriculum design, assessment practices, and instructional strategies. Differentiated instruction embraces what brain research tells us about optimal learning environments, namely that they attend to the learners’ social, emotional and cognitive needs. (Paige)
Differentiating instruction means creating multiple path 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. (Theroux)
Basically, all of the mentioned definitions express the same. It is a strategy of teaching based on the fact that in common classes all around the world learners differ from each other in many different ways. It considers every child, pupil or student as a unique personality with his or her own various capabilities in various domains such as level of readiness, needs, progress, skills, talents, preferences, interests, etc. Due to the consciousness of the learner’s individuality the strategy enables teachers to create and continuously modify their teaching techniques so that they respond as much as possible to the students’ needs. The differentiation covers a range of various fields, for instance, content of curriculum, methods of teaching, instructional strategies, learning opportunities, used materials, approach to students, assessment, etc. All of these and many other aspects give students a chance to be actively involved in learning, make progress and lately achieve success. It opens the way to be fair and not to discriminate against any group of learners (neither the weak or average nor the talented ones). (Heacox 1,17; Dodge 6-7)
2.2. How does differentiated instruction work
The fundamental element of differentiated instruction is the teacher’s will and willingness. It takes a lot of time and effort to create an effective and appropriate way of teaching that is why the real teacher’s determination is absolutely necessary. Although many teachers usually use some kind of differentiation, quite often without realising it, the real working strategy demands much more complex approach. (Heacox 7)
The first step to effectual differentiation is to find out what students already know, what they need to learn, what are their weak and strong points, what styles of learning they prefer, what they are interested in and many other facts about them. The real interest in learners is the crucial factor without that differentiated instruction cannot be realised. The way to learn all needed data is ongoing assessment. Assessment is gathering of information carried out through number of means such as observing learners, talking to them, analysing of their work, listening to them, self-assessments, tests and questionnaires, etc. (Heacox 21, Ioannou-Georgiou 4)
The next step is to coordinate exactly given requirements and goals of Ministry of Education with discovered needs of learners. State standards prescribe expected final knowledge but they do not say how to achieve it. In actual fact it is impossible to get all students to meet curricular requirements without differentiation because various learning needs cannot be fulfilled by monotonous education. Nevertheless, to start differentiate instruction does not mean to throw away all existing experience and used methods, but become aware of how much they already respond to the learners’ needs and complete it with what is still missing. (Heacox 14)
Once a teacher has needed information about his or her students and knows the curricular requirements, he or she can start to work on the differentiation. The teacher should be aware of fact that teaching and learning are not processes separated from the rest of the world but on the contrary, they are integral parts of the surrounding reality. It means leading the education in connection with what learners already know, with other subjects and especially in the context within the particular subject so that students have possibility to see correspondence and logic between taught things.
At the beginning of each lesson the teacher should introduce the topic he or she is going to teach. It could be done in many various ways, such as reading a text connected with the topic, showing PowerPoint presentation, listening to a recording, brainstorming etc. The teacher cannot forget to change starting activities to touch as many learners as possible and not to weary them. The right opening of the lesson enables teachers to draw learners’ attention, help students to concentrate and focus on following work. When students do not seem to be familiar with the topic it is good to say what they are expected to learn and know to help them to centre on the key ideas. (Dodge 29,33)
After an appropriate introduction the teacher starts to explain and work with the particular topic itself. The aim of teacher’s work is not only to provide learners with number of facts, definition and information but also to teach them to work with given material, pick out the most important facts, use new acquired skills within another context or situation, express and demonstrate their knowledge, cooperate with others etc.
One of the best possibilities how to reach all above mentioned aspects is to base teaching on combination of theory of multiple intelligences and Bloom’s taxonomy. Working with multiple intelligences means to use during lessons as many diverse materials and activities as possible (visual, auditory, interactive, tangible objects, etc.) to touch all intelligences. It gives students a chance to learn in a way they favour and opportunity to show their talents and strength. Bloom’s taxonomy is necessary for creating the instruction relevant, complex and challenging enough. It also develops and cultivates higher levels of thinking. Simultaneous usage of these two concepts, called integration matrix, is especially strong and effective tool of differentiated instruction. (Heacox 74-76)
The next important method for effective differentiation is use of flexible instructional grouping. It is a particularly important teaching strategy because it enables working on several tasks at the same time. The teacher forms groups according to goals he or she wants learners to achieve. Sometimes students are divided into the groups according to their skills so that teacher can provide more instruction and practice to struggling learners and more challenging work to advanced ones, next time groups are based on students’ interests and preferences to increase their motivation and give chance to show their strong points. If teacher wants to improve cooperation between students, the combined groups would be the best. From time to time teacher ought to give students an opportunity to choose who they want to work with. (Dodge 105)
Flexible groups are closely connected with tiered assignment. It is necessary to tier assignment when some learners have already managed a required task but some others still do not have the needed level. Tiered lessons provide learners with adequate challenge and motivation and open the way for teachers to manage time in the courses as much effectively as possible. Thanks to working in groups and giving diverse instructions teacher can easily respond to students’ needs. As struggling learners work on the lower level to get essential knowledge and the advanced ones are given more complex tasks nobody is neglected. Keep in mind that both work in groups and tiered assignment should be still based on the integration matrix of Bloom’s taxonomy and multiple intelligences. (Dodge 127,128)
To avoid any feeling of unfairness amongst learners, the teacher has to change structure of groups and kinds of activities within the groups as often as possible. Students should not still work with the same people or on the same level of challenge. The given assignments should be for all equally interesting, motivating, engaging and challenging. (Heacox 98)
The next fundamental element of differentiation is providing choice. In regular classes it is usually the teacher who prescribes activities and the way in which they should be accomplished. It means that all students have to do the same regardless of their interests or preferences, and results in demotivating learners. On the contrary, if students are provided with opportunity of choice what and how they want to do, they are internally motivated, approach their work more responsibly and have a chance to express themselves in preferred way. It supports learners’ creativity, independence and personal growth. Possibility to work in manner students prefer and feel to be good in usually brings very good results. (Dodge 50,51)
The last but not less important part of differentiated instruction is classification. According to differentiation, evaluation does not mean only marks from A to F (on the Czech scale from 1 to 5) but also objective feedback about learners’ work and improvement. Although the aim of differentiation is to help students to achieve the best results, it is impossible to grade all students with “A”. The starting point for right classification is to give exact and clear instructions what the teacher expect and require from the learner to get particular mark. Teacher’s demands have to be definite and accurate, insist on work of high quality but still relevant, and given in language that all learners understand. (Heacox 119,120)
It can be said that differentiated instruction is composed of many elements and factors that all together create really strong and effective teaching technique. It may seem very difficult and time-consuming to lead education in this way but teachers can adopt this teaching strategy gradually, add new methods and activities to those they already use and change their work step by step. Once a teacher becomes familiar with strategies and methods of differentiation, he or she will realise how helpful and useful for both teachers and students differentiated instruction is.
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