Monday, November 26, 2012

Addressing multiple skill levels and abilities

Multiple Skill levels and abilities
The American public school systems were initially set up in the same manner as the factory systems of the 19th century of which they were contemporaries. At the time, this was a revolutionary idea and a great leap forward from the private tutors of the aristocratic years preceding the establishment of free public education. The idea behind public education is that a democratic society is dependent upon a well-educated populace. Over the last two hundred years there have been remarkable advances in psychology, pedagogy and technology which have sparked a new revolution within education. It is clear now that every student is unique, with different abilities and skills. Therefore, an approach such as the factory system, treating every child the same, does a very poor job of addressing the unique gifts of the children within the system. Now, in the 21st century, we understand the uniqueness of our individual students but are still charged with the task of educating as many as forty students simultaneously. In order to accommodate this seeming paradox, effective teachers have developed creative solutions involving a diverse approach in all aspects of the classroom. I employ a variety of instructional methods, including the more traditional direct-teach method, utilize a wide range of materials and activities including multimedia, and use a variety of assessments, such as formative evaluations, in order to address a wide range of skills and abilities.
When providing instruction in my classroom I use direct teaching methods, inquiry based practices and peer teaching to address a wide range of skills and abilities. Direct teach is the most traditional method of teaching and usually entails a lecture. I direct teach within the classroom to provide instructions, procedures, and overviews for my students but rarely employ this method for more than a ten to fifteen minute period. The reason I use smaller time-frames than a traditional teacher is that I am focused on maintaining student engagement in the curriculum and learning environment. In this way I am able to check for understanding more often and repeat, rephrase or review to address students of all skill levels. Oftentimes I transition from direct teach directly into cooperative learning which centers on collaboration, inquiry and discussion. While direct teach provides structure and clear expectations, cooperative learning directly involves the students in the learning process. It is very important to me to facilitate learning, rather than rote memorization in my classroom. Additionally, cooperative learning allows students to contribute to the learning process in a structured and organized way and benefits more students that direct teaching alone would have. Cooperative learning is not restricted to large class discussions with me as the mediator, however. I progressively move the focus of the learning into the hands of the students. Therefore, after a direct teach period followed by guided inquiry, I often will have the students work in small groups or with partners to complete activities or conduct content centered discussions, at which point I monitor through circulation of the room. By arranging groups with various skill levels and abilities I am able to scaffold the student’s learning with each other. The natural progression from this type of work is peer teaching. With peer teaching, each small group in the room is working on different aspects of the same large project. At the end of the activity, each group will present their results to the rest of the class. In this way I am directing the class back to a large discussion group before transitioning to another activity at which point I will employ direct teach to summarize the completed activity and provide the appropriate structure for the next task.
The activities and materials that I use within my classroom include traditional materials, multimedia materials, and project based activities such as posters and presentations. Traditional materials such as worksheets and essays both have an important role in the classroom. Worksheets can come in various forms and provide an opportunity for practice on tasks that require repetition for mastery and scaffolding student’s writing skills. Multimedia materials, such as videos or online resources, are useful because they appeal to visual and auditory learners and oftentimes provide a great deal of information in a very concise and creative package. As a general practice, I tend to only use videos that are fifteen minutes or less and provide a video guide to the students for writing notes. In this way I help increase the engagement and accountability of the students during a multimedia activity. Using resources, such as the internet or videos, can be a good way to introduce a subject or provide in depth, interactive curriculum which can be useful in a project-based assignment. By incorporating project based assignments, usually cooperative projects, students of many skill levels have an opportunity to use their creativity to complete the task. Project based learning also provides an opportunity for cross-curricular study which can greatly increase a student’s understanding of a topic and mastery of the skills necessary for being a successful student. By utilizing multiple activities and materials, I provide a learning environment that steps out of the traditional assessment model and allows a student to flourish in an environment that values them as individuals and enhances their natural abilities.
Assessing students in the 21st century requires multiple approaches such as formative, interim and summative assessments in order to properly address students of different abilities and skills. Formative assessments are used during the lessons to insure that the students are understanding the material. These assessments can come in the form of leading questions from me or the class and can help me adjust my teaching methods to the ongoing needs of the classroom. Interim assessments play a crucial role in ascertaining the various skills and knowledge the student is learning between major assessments. Interim assessments tend to be more formal than formative assessments but are not necessarily as formal as an end of term exam or a quiz. I use a variety of formats, such as posters, worksheets, and verbal presentations, for interim assessments to allow students of all skill levels to achieve their maximum potential. At the end of a unit I administer summative assessments. Oftentimes these will be in the same format as a standardized test to help familiarize the students with the format and reduce the amount of anxiety they may associate with more formal assessments. Through a diverse and inquiry based approach to assessments that focuses on higher levels of cognitive learning, I facilitate a learning environment that addresses multiple skill and ability levels.
      The 21st century is an exciting time in American education and in global community building. I am passionate about providing a classroom that promotes diversity, scholarship and cooperation. Through diverse instructional methods, varied assignments and multiple levels of assessments, I work very hard to address students on an individual level according to their personal abilities and skill levels. It is important that students are recognized as individuals and as members of a cooperative learning environment. Modern society is so diverse that individuals of all abilities and skill levels have an integral role in the growing global community. In education we are providing students with more than curriculum. Rather than ignore previous generation's methods it is important that we hold on to time-proven techniques and expand upon them while incorporating new and dynamic methods that takes into account the growing research and scholarship in education, pedagogy and psychology. We, as teachers, are welcoming the next generation of leaders into the community and facilitating a leaning environment that values the student as individuals, preparing them for a life-long journey of learning, cooperation and success.