B. Commitment to Student Learning

OCT Standard: Commitment to Students and Student Learning
Members are dedicated in their care and commitment to students. They treat students equitably and with respect and are sensitive to factors that influence individual student learning. Members facilitate the development of students as contributing citizens of Canadian society.

Rationale: As demonstrated in this assignment, the goals of differentiation are to enable each student to learn and to demonstrate that learning in ways that best suit them. It is important to recognize student differences and be aware that those differences can lead to very different ways of learning and achieving curriculum expectations. Students are also helped through these processes to learn what their strengths are and what skills they could work to improve on, so that as they move beyond school and become citizens, they are aware of the myriad ways that they may participate in society.

Assignment/Reflection: Differentiation Strategies

One of the cornerstones of student achievement is being able to differentiate instruction based on needs, aptitudes and ability. This key strategy requires that teachers have a sound understanding of not only their content and appropriate instructional strategies, but also of their students as individuals. This can be achieved in a number of ways, but some ways of helping with this can be found using interest surveys, multiple intelligence questionnaires, conversations and observations. For DI to achieve the largest benefit for student learning, the student must realize that they are working on the same curriculum goals, but that those goals can be met in a variety of ways. In a classroom that has a solid understanding of assessment practices, including learning goals and success criteria, this becomes an easier, more manageable idea. The students understand the goals they are working toward, along with the criteria that would indicate success.  The methods, process and product can all be different for each student, but would still result in successfully attaining the goals. The following 3 strategies are not specific to any curriculum, but rather could be applied in a variety of ways. There are some specific examples given to illustrate possible uses of the strategies.

To differentiate content, the students and teachers can come to an understanding of the big ideas of their curriculum expectations. While there may be some specific concept that the students are required to learn, the context of that concept is usually wide open to allow the students to learn the concept in a way that is more suited to them.  For example, the Grade 4 Writing expectation #1.4 refers to students’ ability to sort and classify ideas for writing.  Rather than have everyone complete the same task, students can chose to decide what topic they wish to write about, and they all work on the skills of organizing ideas, but they all have different ideas, and topics that are of interest to them.  This allows all students to work on the same expectation, but in a different way.

Product is perhaps the one DI strategy that most teachers begin with, as it’s a fairly straightforward thing. Again, if the class has an understanding of the learning goals and success criteria that are being worked on, then the product that they create to demonstrate their understanding of the goals can be different for each student. For example if students are demonstrating an understanding of the components of the solar system from Grade 6 Science (Earth and Space Systems), they may chose to do so in a variety of ways, from art work, to multimedia presentations, movies, podcasts or interpretive dance! (Seriously, I’ve seen it done. It was great! 🙂 )

Process refers to the manner in which students engage with content in order to build an understanding. This is where using inquiry based approaches to the curriculum can result in students doing different things for their learning.  Students can engage with their content, and use that to generate questions of their own that they then use for further learning opportunities. Once they have their questions and they are engaged in the learning, the process that they follow can vary widely.  For example, in grade 4 History, when students are to demonstrate an understanding of the major feature of daily life and society in medieval Europe, they can be encouraged to engage in an inquiry process around a concept of interest to them. Some students may chose to learn about music and musical instruments, including playing some period musical pieces for their class. Other students may be interested in hunting techniques and how people gathered food for their families. Others may be interested in architecture and construct models of buildings from the time. As the possible choices are virtually endless, the students are quite likely to be able to find a topic of interest to them and learn about the time period, and how it relates to current time and society.  This achieves the goals of learning the curriculum expectations, but also provides enough flexibility to engage the learners with rich task that they find relevant to them.

Rationale: Equality and understanding what factors affect students in their learning progress is important as well. Using UDL principles, teachers design both learning spaces and learning opportunities to account for, and take advantage of, the differences in students background, culture and aptitudes. Several components and examples are discussed in the UDL assignment below.

Assignment/Reflection: Universal Design for Learning

Universality and Equality
The junior classroom must have a variety of texts and other materials available for students at different abilities and needs. Having a wide variety of texts that address the same curriculum expectations, but in different ways will help all students learn about those expectations, albeit in different ways. Different reading levels are important, but so are different items of interest. For example, if you’re in science and studying grade 6 Biodiversity, there are different ways of approaching the topic. Student may be interested in studying various organisms, or they may be interested in a First Nations viewpoint around the topic, or they may be interested in an issues-based approach such as how a development in their area will impact biodiversity. All of these are valid entry points to the curriculum topic.

Flexibility and Inclusivity
An inclusive classroom involves judicious use and availability of technology tools to assist with students learning. Students can be helped to understand that all people require different things to help learn, and at different times. Technology is neither a distraction nor a crutch, but rather a ‘mind tool’ that is to be leveraged to assist when it may be required. We have too often a narrow view of when technology should and shouldn’t be used, and that needs to change to allow for the full range of possible benefits for all students.

Classroom space must be designed to allow all students to see and hear. For students with hearing impairment, the use of an FM system is essential for understanding teacher communications. These systems fall under the heading of ‘essential for some, good for all’ in that, in classrooms with these kinds of audio systems, ALL student are able to better hear the teacher and thus gain greater understand of things like instructions. In addition, it helps the teacher in greater assurance of understanding and physically protects their voice.

The design of a learning space must be simple and clean. Too many things on the walls, distracting sounds or visuals can continually alter the attention of students. Current research around mulit-tasking tends to support the notion that students (and adults) are not capable of doing more than one thing at a time, and that in fact, rapid task-switching and attention-switching result in less focused learning, so having a simple, clean classroom will be beneficial to all students.

Classrooms must be places where students are encouraged to take risks, and learn from those experiences. In order to encourage this kind of environment, teachers can foster a culture of questioning and inquiry, such that all questions are deemed important. This allows students to feel free to pose question, or wonderings, no matter what it is. This requires a teacher to understand UDL and inquiry based learning to provide this kind of safe environment.

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