I feel that overall my proposed solution worked to answer my initial question, which focused on differentiated instruction in the subject of telling time increasing student learning and motivation. My students were definitely excited to participate in the activities that were designed for their specific needs. Their motivation and confidence improved dramatically because they were being challenged by what they were ready to learn.
That data collected in Cycle 1 showed that they had tremendous learning gains within the realm of telling and writing the time to the hour, half-hour, quarter-hour and in five-minute intervals on both analog and digital clocks. There were students that struggled mightily in the pre-assessment that had perfect scores on the post-assessment all because they received the information when they were ready for each piece of the puzzle.
My second cycle focused on incorporating more digital technology and having the students teach someone else how to tell time. This cycle did not go as well in my opinion because my students struggled to transfer their learning into teaching. They were able to understand it for themselves, but many struggled to translate that into an explanation of how and why. I feel that this cycle would have been more successful if I had slowed down and given students several more examples of how to share their learning with someone else.
In comparing my results with the research from my literature review I found much of what I researched to be true in practice. When my students were given the information that they needed at that moment of their learning, they were more motivated and successful in what they were doing (Hwang, Sung, Hung, Huang & Tsai, 2012). We have a tendency in public education to deliver content in a “ready or not” manner. For many of these students, if they are not ready for the information being taught, it’s like asking them to drink out of a fire hose. They get all of the information at once and don’t have anywhere for it to go. Differentiated instruction slows down the process and gives the students the information they need when they need it. In my research I also found that students are more apt to retain information when given a choice on how they will show their learning (Özdemir, Güneysu, & Tekkaya, 2006). My students had the option to demonstrate their understanding of telling time by writing, acting, drawing or by any other means they could think of. Very few students chose the exact same method to convey their understanding of the material.
Overall this project gave me greater insight into the mind of my students and how they best learn. “Teaching to the middle” does more harm than good and is an epidemic that must me stopped in our schools. After reviewing my results from this project and seeing how engaged my students were, I am convinced now more than ever that differentiated instruction is the only way to reach 100 percent of the students in my class. Yes, it takes more planning and more flexibility and things come up that aren’t expected, but the benefits far outweigh the challenges. I have shared briefly and will continue to share the details of my project with colleagues in my school as well as with the administration.
On top of the differentiated instruction, the choice given in assessment was also a major discovery for me. When we allow students to learn in the way that best suits his or her needs, we need to allow for assessments that follow in that same manner. Giving students a choice in how they will demonstrate their understanding in a subject seems to me to be the only logical next step in teaching in our incredibly diverse society. We are always telling our students to embrace their differences and be individuals, but when we assess them in a cookie cutter fashion, we’re contradicting that very statement. Teachers and school systems nationwide need to take a hard look at how they are assessing these students and be willing to make the changes necessary to allow for not only differentiated instruction, but differentiated assessments as well.
Hwang, G., Sung, H., Hung, C., Huang, I., & Tsai, C. (2012). Development of a personalized educational computer game based on students’ learning styles. Educational Technology Research & Development, 60(4), 623-638. doi:10.1007/s11423-012-9241-x
Özdemir, P., Güneysu, S., & Tekkaya, C. (2006). Enhancing learning through multiple intelligences. Journal of Biological Education (Society Of Biology), 40(2), 74-78. Retrieved from Academic Search Complete database.