100-word response 1 reference
When I think of a “traditional” classroom, I think of what people outside of the profession think that teaching is. I have had people ask me why I need to lesson plan so much. “Don’t you have a teacher’s manual you are supposed to use?” To help me with this post, I asked my significant other what he imagines a classroom looks like. His response was that the teacher is standing in front of the room at a chalkboard ( Ha!- That shows his age!). The students are sitting in rows, facing forward. They each have their own desks with a book open in front of them. I then asked him what a classroom sounds like. He said that the classroom is quiet, except for the teacher, who is the only one talking. As we know, the realities of most classrooms are much different than this. For the purpose of this post, I will concentrate on my conversation above to explain some ways that “traditional” and differentiated classrooms differ.
The first involves lesson materials. Yes, teachers have specific content and standards they have to teach, and yes, we are usually provided with resources or a curriculum to use to achieve these goals. Personally, however, I very rarely ever use my Go Math or McGraw Hill (Science) curriculum, unless it is in a supplementary way. The text used in both is not friendly to the students I teach, most of whom read well-below grade level and/or are English language learners. A traditional classroom might simply use the materials provided to them, but that could be setting students up for failure. As Spencer-Waterman (2004) wrote, “Any students who have difficulty accessing information through your major source of content information would most likely have a hard time succeeding in your class” (p. 3). In a differentiated classroom, teachers are finding or creating materials more appropriate to their learners’ needs and reading levels. They are looking for more engaging ways students can learn. They are pre-teaching vocabulary, relating it to their learners, and using visuals and graphic organizers to help them understand. They are considering their ESL students and whether having access to content in their native language is necessary. They are thinking of non-readers and how information can be provided to those students in a way that they will understand.
Another hallmark of a traditional classroom seems to be that the teacher is the one with all of the answers and knowledge. They are doing all of the talking, while students are listening or writing things down. In a differentiated classroom, ”teachers are students of their students” (Tomlinson, 2014, p. 4). They recognize that each student has their own unique knowledge, background, experiences, strategies and insights to offer, in addition to their own individual learning needs. These teachers include students in their own learning, whether it be by encouraging class discussions so that background knowledge can be assessed, utilizing choice boards or providing multiple avenues for assessment, or by regularly asking students to reflect/share their level of understanding on a given topic. Teachers who practice differentiation realize that to be as effective as possible, they must truly understand their students. They must learn just as much about their students as they expect their students to learn from them. They then use what they learn to drive instruction and tailor it to individual needs.
The last thing I will address is that learning is an individual task. I feel that most classrooms no longer have a “solitary, sit at your own desk, and never talk to your classmates” type of vibe. Although sometimes it may look like that, as the infographic demonstrated, differentiated classrooms incorporate whole group, small group, and individual tasks. Students are often encouraged to talk to partners, to do “think-pair-shares”, or are placed in flexible, strategic groups and encouraged to engage in cooperative learning. As we know, oftentimes students learn just as much from one another as they do from their teacher.