New Students? 7 Tips to Differentiate with Tech

differentiate with techThere are two areas where technology can optimize learning better than any other educational strategy. I’m not talking about iPads or laptops or apps. I mean how you deliver your message–done in such a way that more students are able to achieve their goals.
The first is problem solving. If you want students to be critical thinkers, to take responsibility for their own learning and in doing so, excel–and you do–you must must MUST use technology to teach problem solving. More on that later.
Today, we’ll talk about differentiation. If you struggle to adapt your lessons to the multitude of learning styles in your classroom, struggle no more. Technology is like that friendly laugh that diffuses a tense situation, the tale wag from a rottweiler to tell you s/he’s on your side. Tech will become your classroom’s transformative tool–a magic wand that can adapt any inquiry to student needs. Take the cornerstone of literacy–the book report–as an example. When a teacher assigns this sort of compare/contract, who/what/when/where exercise, students thinks paragraphs of words and grammar struggles. Thanks to technology, that project is no longer a nightmare for everyone challenged by phrases and paragraphs. Now, students have options that transcend pencil on paper. Communicate the essential ideas with a comic tool like Storyboard That, an art tool like SumoPaint. How about an audio tool like Voki–or a movie maker like Animoto. The challenge for you as teacher is to provide those tech options and then encourage students to be risk-takers in using them to achieve the project goals. The challenge for students is to analyze what’s available and select the tool that uses their learning style.
You’re probably thinking that before students can use these fancy tools, you have to learn all of them–and teach them. Where’s that sort of time come from–and by the way, you aren’t one of the ‘techie’ teachers. Do I have good news for you. The ideas below require very little prep from you. Students learn to read the screen, look for something that says ‘start’, not be afraid to make mistakes, and collaborate with neighbors on the learning. This can happen as young as 2nd grade. The hardest part for you is to facilitate rather than step in and solve their problems. Students will get used to the new reality that teachers provide guidance not step-by-step instruction. I promise.
Here are seven ways to differentiate instruction every day:
  1. Does this scenario sound familiar: While some student carefully finish a project, taking their time as suits their learning style, others slam through the steps and start looking for ‘what’s next’. You know the type. Both approaches are fine. Address it by having a lot of authentic activities going on in your classroom so students are encouraged to work at their own pace. Let them self-manage their education. Be clear about your expectations, then trust them to find their way. Have links on the class internet start page for organic learning like keyboarding practice and sponge websites that tie into subject area inquiry.
  2. Teach students how to create visual organizers, then let them use these optionally for projects. These can be graphic organizers like Venn Diagrams or pyramids, or an infographic made in Let them communicate their ideas with not only text, but layout, color, and images. That appeals to the artist in lots of students.
  3. Add color to everything. If you’re using Word (or Google Docs), show students how to add pictures, borders, fonts. Students will tolerate the words to get to the decorating. If you’re teaching Excel, show how to color cells, text, add images. They’ll do the math stuff so they can make it pretty.
  4. Use online tools like Discovery Education’s Puzzle Maker to review concepts. Move away from rubrics and study guides. Anything that gamifies learning will go down easier with students. They are digital natives so let them learn in a more natural way.
  5. In fact, gamify anything possible. There are an amazing number of high-quality simulations that teach through play–Minecraft, iCivics, Mission US, Lemonade Stand. Here’s a long list. There’s probably one for every subject. Take advantage of them.
  6. If students aren’t excited by the tools and widgets you offer, let them suggest their own. If they can make the argument for it, let them use it.
  7. Always offer do-overs. I call them ‘Mulligans’ (from golf). In a differentiated classroom, you always want to let students redo an assignment. What if they didn’t understand? Or were sick? How does trying harder defeat education’s goal of learning ? With technology, all students have to do is open their project and continue work based on your feedback. That’s cool. Rest assured: When you offer this in your classroom, most students won’t take you up on it. It’s too outside-the-box. You won’t be deluged with double the work. But, be happy if you are.

That’s it. Try these seven ideas and see if they don’t transform your classroom. Questions? Email me (or leave a comment)

Author: Jacqui
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, contributor to NEA Today, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

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