Classroom instruction in the 21st century is defined by three concepts: differentiation, goal setting, and data analysis. These three activities address children’s different learning styles and satisfy the needs of all kinds of students.
Best educational practices no longer support teaching all students the same way or even with the same purpose. Each student is a world to conquer. Therefore, it is through differentiation, goal setting, and data analysis that the classroom becomes much more than a place for learning: it transforms into a center for exploration and growth.
Differentiation entails gearing every teaching moment in the classroom toward the unique needs of each student. It may sound like a daunting task, but a trained and motivated teacher is quite capable of meeting this challenge.
During the first stages of differentiation, teachers take the first weeks of the school year to get to know each student using a variety of tools. Then they decide what interventions to use and what methods will enable them to track progress. This occurs through a combined effort between teacher and student: it is not a one-sided activity.
Interest inventories are questionnaires used to determine what kids like. They include questions about book genres, out-of-school activities, school subjects, and even lunch preferences. Teachers can use this information to customize their curriculum, for example, choosing or creating math word problems or reading passages on subjects that the child finds interesting and engaging, which motivates him or her more highly to participate and succeed.
Testing has gotten a bad reputation, and it can certainly be done poorly or misused. However some testing can be highly productive, and it needn’t be unpleasant or stressful to the child. An experienced teacher can quickly analyze just a few answers on some tests to determine what each student needs. At the same time, student answers provide feedback on the test itself, indicating whether the test is reliable and of high quality and whether it performs a true skills assessment.
Children of all ages should be held accountable for their own progress. Teachers do this by establishing goals with each learner during a short, one-on-one conference. It can be as simple as choosing a recent assessment, discussing it, and determining where to go from there: What are the areas that need help? What should be the next data point?
Regardless of the curriculum, all teachers need to test and assess different learning styles with tasks large and small. All tasks should be geared toward the specific needs of the learners and should test their skills and abilities. Any task that meets these criteria is good enough to analyze with the student in order to decide what intervention will be used next.
Once goals are set, learners can track their progress using child-friendly charts, graphs, tally marks, or happy faces. Regardless of diversity factors, it is important that all children be able to track this growth themselves.
A skilled teacher drives instruction based on the data that is generated from assessments. Excellent teachers tend to save their data, graph it, and discuss it with learners. While most goals are individualized, the whole class can make goals that boost their cohesion and group functioning. This also teaches class members to value and trust each other as equal parts of something greater, and special.
Some of the data generated by tests can drive these community goals. For example, if learners consistently do poorly on reading tests, maybe it is time to make leisure reading more available. A class could respond by establishing a community goal such as reading a certain number of books per month or creating and participating in a reading competition.
Creating a classroom that works for every student is not hard to do. It takes dedication, motivation, and talent, but teachers can make it happen, and they will see results immediately and run classrooms that are self-sufficient and successful.
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