Not to intentionally date me, but I started teaching in the mid 90's. Back then school was VERY different! I am not sure I can truly explain how different I feel that teaching is today but it boils down to this- at times I feel like the hamster in a wheel running and running and getting no where. So when my district walks in and asked "how are you differentiating instruction to meet the needs of your students?" I want to scream! (Ever felt that way?)
This December I was able to attend the Arkansas Kindergarten conference. It was an amazing two days! Cindy Middendorf was our key note speaker the first morning and she really inspired me to get off the wheel. That first morning she talked about teaching in terms of a trip to Oz, with all the characters in toe. She talked about how we meet the needs of those on the trip with us. I honestly wanted to hear more about how I was to make my room like that trip to Oz. IF you have never been to a kindergarten conference or been to any workshops other than what your district offers, I would recommend that you find one near you. It is SO worth it! Ok getting back on track...
While at the conference I picked up Cindy's book Differentiating Institution in Kindergarten. This post will be centered on chapter one: What is Differentiated Instruction mean in Kindergarten? Cindy says "Differentiated instruction is a philosophy, a way of thinking and structuring our classrooms that puts children first." When I read this I thought, I do that... I try to met every child where they are and I'm spinning but as I kept reading I found that Cindy addressed this by saying that most kindergarten teachers naturally do this. We create environments where children bloom and grow.
Then I read this an d it really hit home... Differentiated instruction is more than just having different students involved in different activities. It means that the teacher is consciously tried to engage children in learning and reinforcing skills through an array of methods while addressing curriculum standards. Differentiated instruction means that one instructional goal or objective can be attained using different strategies, different contents, and/or different finished products for different children. Ok WOW... does this ring a bell... well a light bulb when on for me- learning modalities!
Have you spent much time thinking about learning modalities? It's ok if you haven't. But think on this for just one minute... visual learners learn differently from auditory learners. Really let it sink in.... so on a normal day, aren't you already addressing the different types of learners through songs, poems with motions, art projects tied to writing projects. So it hits me that differentiation is really addressing the different learning styles. Can it really be that simple? I think so. We want our children to master a set of skills, right? And we know that different activities appear easy to some children while other children are not as successful. I am seeing where learning style would be the reason that one activity is easy for this child but another activity on the same skill is more difficult. The learning style is the road that the information travels. When a child masters a skill, I believe that the learning style has a lot to do with that mastery and how quickly the children reach mastery.
Another point that Cindy makes is this... when we start differentiating instruction we start looking at long term goals. We begin to free our selves from the idea of "how do I fit it all in" to thinking "where do I want my children at the end of this week, this month, this unit. The freedom that this brings is what energizes teachers and makes teaching fun again. WOW... making every day of teaching a fun day. A day where I feel that everything is done but all children have been given the chance to master materal.
I have to say at this point, just one chapter in, I am very excited about the light bulb that went off when I was reading about the learning styles. I am wondering how identifying the learning styles in my plans might show me where I am missing opportunities to reach all my kids. Cindy mentioned multiple intelligences, honestly I don't know much about these and am eager to read how knowing this about my students will help their mastery.
I hope that you will join me next week as I look at chapters 2 and 3. These chapters deal with the modalities and intelligences.