When facilitating learning, teachers have a lot to consider–auditory learners, visual learners, tactile learners, English learners, learners with special needs, learners from different socio-economic backgrounds, introverts, extroverts, left-brained, right-brained, and so on. Teachers have little to no say in what types of student will be enrolled in their classes. Therefore, a teacher who is not well-versed in a variety of instructional strategies will not be equipped to meet the needs of every student. An amazing lecturer will reach the auditory learners, but what about the kinesthetic learners? How can instruction be differentiated to meet the special needs of certain students, such as those who are learning English as a second language? How can the teacher ensure that each student is receiving meaningful instruction?
How do I reach every student in my classroom?
The answer, though manifold, can be summed up in a word: Variety.
In order to meet the variety of unique needs encapsulated within a typical classroom, teachers must possess deep knowledge and skill at implementing a variety of instructional strategies.
For the sake of example, consider the following scenario:
Student A and Student B are attending Mr. Example’s band class. Mr. Example has been teaching a new concept: 16th notes. To teach this content, Mr. Example employs a behaviorist educational strategy (i.e., showing the students a note pattern, demonstrating the pattern, then drilling and practicing the pattern). Student A quickly grasps the concept and is able to apply the learning to new music. Student B, however, cannot apply the drilled & practiced behavior to new music.
What does Mr. Example do? Does he continue to employ the similar strategies? Not if he is well versed in a variety of instructional strategies.
Stepping back, and taking a cognitivist perspective, Mr. Example now aims to determine what kind of learner Student B is (e.g., with which strategy is Student B more likely to make the necessary cognitive connection). After a few moments with Student B, Mr. Example noticed that Student B described 8th notes as “two sounds in a beat”. It was then Mr. Example realized that Student B is more likely to learn the concept through oral explanation. In other words, Student B is an auditory learner. So, Mr. Example explains that 16th notes are “four sounds in a beat.” Student B quickly grasps the concept and is able to apply it to new music.
Let’s extend the scenario further:
Mr. Example facilitates a playing test. Student A and Student B do well. However, Student C is shy, and refuses to play individually. Does Mr. Example shrug Student C off, and simply issue a low grade? Not if his repertoire of instructional strategies is varied enough.
When asked, “Why not?” Student C’s response indicated insecurity, because the other students can produce a better tone quality. Mr. Example decides to apply social psychology to his instructional strategy. At the next playing test, Mr. Example has the entire class applaud and offer praise after each student performs. As a result, the learning environment becomes more positive. Any perceived threat of ridicule is removed, and Student C feels more secure in playing alone. The class applauds Student C’s efforts afterwards.
This example illustrates a small portion of the vast spectrum of unique learners. For each unique learner, there are instructional strategies that will meet their needs, and instructional strategies that won’t.
But what about technology?
Today’s society is technology-rich, and it’s only becoming richer. Consider this graphic:
And this one:
Given the rapid emergence of new technology, every student has at least one need in common: technology in education. When considering the role of technology in education today, one only needs to examine the role it has taken in society. Imagine going on a trip without your smartphone. Imagine having to conduct research for a college-level essay without the aid of computers. Technology has taken such a prominent place in society, that life without the internet has become difficult to fathom, even for those of us who were born before the internet’s emergence. Ken Robinson (see the embedded video below) summed it up well when he said, “Technology has changed the entire context of education.”
Because of the ubiquitous role technology has taken in society, and the rapid rate at which new technology is emerging, the context of education has changed. As a result, teachers must be tasked with designing instruction which incorporates cutting-edge technology in meaningful ways: Ways that align to the ISTE standards (see the link below), that teach students to harness new technology for collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking; ways that teach students the impact technology will have on their futures.
How can that be achieved? Simply put, by using the technology. Is your class working on a project? Incorporate shared documents. Let the students collaborate via Google docs create their presentations. Are you employing a drill and practice strategy? Find a piece of educational software to facilitate the drill and practice. Are you planning on engaging the students in a class discussion? Create a forum, and let the students discuss online. Teachers in the 21st century should be equipped to facilitate these types of learning experiences in a safe, effective manner.
In conclusion, teachers have a lot to consider when designing instruction. The needs of each student must be met. In order to do that, teachers must be well versed in a wide variety of instructional strategies. They must be knowledgeable about student diversity, and skilled at discerning which strategies to employ. Furthermore, teachers must learn to incorporate technology into their instructional design. If they can achieve these things, teachers will be able to equip every learner, not just some, with the knowledge and skills necessary to compete and thrive as adults.
http://www.iste.org/standards – The International Society for Technology in Education