Teaching to the student’s level and reaching new depths – online.
Whether a life preserver to a new swimmer, a parent holding the hand of a new walking toddler, a teacher in a classroom, or a coach to an Olympian, to move the person further one will:
- Meet the student where they are.
- Teach new concepts or ways of doing things.
- Instruct on how to implement new knowledge.
- Encourage the student to move farther, past where they have previously been.
When one teaches another person a task, a concept, an idea, the one teaching must meet the student where they are at, in order to bring them farther academically, mentally or idealistically. This process is referred to as tiered instruction and differentiation. I would argue, it is best practices for teaching someone any type of new information or task. Why is differentiating the instruction important? What does this look like in the classroom? How does this apply to the online learning environment?
Why is differentiating the instruction important?
In the list above, many teachers and professors meet the criteria of the middle points by focusing on #2, Teach new concepts or ways of doing things, and #3, Instruct on how to implement new knowledge, yet miss the critical beginning and end, that being 1. Meet the student where they are, and 4. Encourage the student to move farther, past where they have previously been. To make learning relevant to the student they need to connect the new information to the knowledge piece they already have, and then go deeper and farther, with new connections and knowledge gained.
What does this look like in the classroom?
A common misconception is that one needs to create three separate complete lessons for each one lesson of content in order to reach all levels – struggling, general and high ability students. One lesson can be created, yet activities to reinforce learning can be tiered, based on student learning levels. Offer choices for activities, where possible, yet structured to show the same mastery of content across all student activities, assignments and projects. By differentiating, all student levels are met, so all levels of learning and engagement is improved.
One can do this by pre-assessing and grouping students to assign activities or projects, or create a choice board or list for students to self-select which activity or project to do.
This follows Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines and also can address different learning types. Giving choices is a best practice in adult learning strategy that many instructors forget to include in their teaching.
How does this apply to the online learning environment?
Be inclusive of all learners by:
- Offering choices of activities and projects to reinforce learning and show mastery of content, which will include different learning levels and styles
- Allow different paced learning to meet student needs
Make available 2-3 weeks of weekly instructional content at a time for students who work at a fast-pace (gifted learners) or have professional or personal conflicts from one week to the next and need to modify their class time to complete the work. One needs to remember that adult learners have other commitments in life, which in some instances makes a face-to-face class not an option, so an online course to modify their class time is necessary. This also helps a struggling learner to see a bigger picture and see the direction of the course and assignments without seeing all of the course weeks at once, which might overwhelm some students.
Are you the life preserver to support the student and take the student to new depths not previously discovered or the buoy that holds the student up in the same place where they started? BE the life preserver and take them farther!
Written by Kelley E.B. Senkowski, M.Ed., Online Design Consultant, Ferris State University
Shapiro, E. S. (2014). Tiered instruction and intervention in a response-to-intervention model. RTI Action Network, 381.
Stuart, S. K., & Rinaldi, C. (2009). A collaborative planning framework for teachers implementing tiered instruction. Teaching Exceptional Children, 42(2), 52-57.
Tomlinson, C. A. (2008). Goals of Differentiation. Educational Leadership.