As I think about the topic of “how can instruction be differentiated for diverse learners?”, I am reminded of what I do everyday at my job. I am working towards a degree in Deaf Education, and while doing so, I work as a Long Term Sub at the Elementary level for Life Skills/Resources class. Part of my job duties includes being a “para”, or rather, In Class Support person for another Deaf Education teacher. Her third graders are taught in two different classroom settings, one being an inclusive self-contained Deaf Ed. classroom and the other part of the day is taught in a general education classroom with a certified interpreter and co-teacher. At our district, we call this “60/40” where 60% of the time they are in general education and 40% of the time is spent in Deaf Education. For these students, some instruction is in the least restrictive environment, but also some of it is taught in a more restrictive environment. They are pulled out of class for tests, given extra time on assignments, as well as having plenty of accommodations and modifications that includes things such as preferential seating, sound amplification, modified tests, to name a few. These accommodations and modifications are tailored to each student’s specific needs according to their IEP (Individualized Education Program) and all teachers, both general education and Deaf education, must follow these IEPs as required by IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education).
The other part of my job is teaching students with disabilities. I have one student who is DeafBlind, one who has intellectual disabilities, and another who is a twelve year old who just moved here from Nigeria with no language. As I listened (read the text) to the interview between Dr. Krutka and Dr. Mandy Stewart of Texas Woman’s University, Dr. Stewart spoke of L1 and L2 (Language 1 and Language 2), I couldn’t help but wonder about those who don’t even have a L1. My student from Nigeria only knew the written alphabet and how to write his name. I want to know what resources are out there to teach a person English that has no prior L1. Especially for one who is Deaf, as they learn language differently from someone who can hear. When considering teaching my DeafBlind student, I am required to teach TEKS curriculum, but must greatly expand content and completely modify my lesson plans to adapt to how my student learns. For example: this week, we were learning about the water cycle. I had to make a tactile model of the water cycle and explain various parts of the cycle in a way that made sense. To simulate evaporation, I had to use a humidifier to really show him what evaporation is like. It requires a great deal of creativity on my part and also bouncing ideas off on a certified DeafBlind teacher.
Differentiated instruction is important in education for many reasons. The main reason is that not everyone learns the same way. For example, deaf children are visual learners. Others learn by doing physical activities. And yet, others learn best by working alone or in a group setting. As a teacher, we should aim to include various methods of teaching. Not necessarily only because everyone has different learning styles, but also because a multi-modal approach is the best way to effectively teach students. It is like the quote by Benjamin Franklin, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Teaching one thing in multiple ways ensures that everyone has a chance to understand it because of their different learning styles.
To allow all learners the best chance at being involved, Lois Barrett (n.d)) writes in her article, “Seamless teaching navigating the inclusion spectrum” that we should:
- “Provide multiple means of representation- Present content in different ways to give students a variety of options for acquiring information and knowledge.
- Provide multiple means of expression- Ensure students have a variety of ways of demonstrating what they know.
- Provide multiple means of engagment- Create a stimulating learning environment by offering various ways for a student to engage, based on preferences and interests.”
All students have specific strengths and weaknesses. As educators, we must remember that those who have a disability will also have something that they are good at, even if that means simple math addition for someone who is in high school. Teachers are always refining their craft and they do so by experience. Teachers gain experience throughout the years by learning different strategies and changing up their lesson plans so as to expose all students to various types of learning throughout the school year.