One of the unique things about technology integration that I have experienced in my own role as an Educational Technology Specialist is that teachers often believe that technology integration involves a project of some sort and that the technology takes center stage. Interestingly, I find that teachers make the same mistake when considering differentiation. While a project is certainly an admirable goal and one that should be encouraged, when calming the fears of teachers, it is a good idea to remind them that technology integration and differentiation occurs in a variety of ways and there are many options that are not as formal as a project.
“Differentiation can happen at any time in a learning cycle, including during assessments” (Tomlinson) . I would include that the same applies to technology integration. When combined, differentiation can be enhanced through the use of technology integration.
Many forms of differentiation occur in the classroom through a variety of effective yet simple processes to implement. For example, Tomlinson mentions that differentiation can occur when the teacher uses a variety of questioning methods, incorporates visual support during lessons, providing hands-on opportunities for learning, and implementing appropriate response wait-times for student, and connecting learning to the students’ interests. (n.d.) Educational technology can provide unique and motivational methods to improve questioning methods, provide visual support, and allow for interactive learning. Learning interests can be supported with educational technology through the use of online learning centers, graphic support that incorporates students’ interest and hands-on learning processes that are presented in the manner that interests students. For example, students could practice multiplication through an online hockey learning game or through a trip through the jungles when the content is incorporated into the various scenarios.
Differentiation can occur in a variety of areas that are part of the everyday learning environment. Process, for example, can be differentiated as mentioned in the previous paragraph. However, differentiation can also be implemented in the areas of content, product, affect, and learning environment. For example, providing students the ability to learn material through a video, online website, or interactive game is one way to differentiate content using technology.
Another way to differentiate for students is to allow students to have a role in the product that is created to show their learning. I would encourage instructors to be open to listening to students’ ideas in determining their product. While providing a variety of carefully laid out options is one approach, allowing the students to develop and determine their own product to show their learning is another that often works well. One way to ensure that learning is not degraded by this process is to develop a rubric that ensures that knowledge is presented within any product in a way that assures the instructor that learning has occurred.
Of course, sometimes differentiation simply requires one-to-one time with the student or being aware of the personalities and how they play a role in the students learning. The child who is very shy, for example, may not perform to their abilities when placed in front of a classroom and providing each child an opportunity to show their learning within their own comfort levels and learning styles may support and improve understanding. Positive reinforcement for students who need encouragement is a simple and easy differentiating process, as well. Technology can support this student when activities provide frequent and positive feedback and redirection. Most teachers already work with students who display behavior concerns in the classroom and this, too, is a form of differentiation. In all cases, differentiation may require modification throughout the process. For instance, the child who was very shy at the beginning of the year may begin to feel safe in the classroom and be able to approach some new methods of showing their understanding as the year progresses. Similarly, the child who shows behavior concerns may not respond to an approach the instructor uses and that instructor will need to reconsider and try an alternative approach to work with that student in the productive way.
The environment is another area that can be considered when differentiating. This includes collaboration activities, seating, and structure of the classroom and classroom management process. In this case, technology support may be in the form of an electronic seating chart that allows the instructor to easily coordinate groupings or individual needs. Technology may also provide the tools that supports the products created during collaboration or manages the collaborative process such as Google Docs or an environment like Edmodo.
Differentiation does not have to be another thing on the long list of teacher responsibilities. In fact, teachers should know that they are likely differentiating in a variety of ways already. Using educational technology, however, differentiation can be enhanced and promoted to improve the opportunities for student academic success.
edmodo. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.edmodo.com
Google drive. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://drive.google.com
Tomlinson, C. A. (Presenter) (n.d.). Differentiating instructional elements [Web]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=/webapps/blackboard/execute/launcher?type=Course&id=_1119562_1&url=