Differentiated & Interdisciplinary Instruction
Any conversation of differentiated instruction is usually followed closely by the assessment connected to it—usually a pre- and post-test model, with plenty of check-ups in between. It is important to discover where each student in a class is on his/her learning continuum, but it is equally important to offer many ways to assess that, and do it throughout the multiple disciplines in real-world and experiential circumstances. We sometimes forget to do that “learning” part well, while we concentrate on doing the “assessment” part. That last part can be, today, such a more enlightening and engaging piece of the learning puzzle—and should be in context, as well as done on a daily basis.
Differentiated instruction, where students are offered many ways to learn, and hopefully find their best learning style, can best be achieved through collaborative and interdisciplinary teaching. Bringing more than one area of study, into a problem-solving student assignment, or project isn’t new, but for some educators, adding the use of technology in that process, with students, can be. The teaming of different departments: science, mathematics, social studies, language arts, music, art, and others to create experiential, or project-based tasks and projects has been a common goal and school experience for teachers and students since the chalkboard days. Early on, it may have been a direct mandate from administrators, and or discovered by teachers to be a better way to do projects with students. This style of teaching and learning for students fits perfectly into differentiated instruction models. The pre- and post-testing requires a bit more creative thinking, but can result in much more understanding about how each student learns, and what each student needs to succeed. You also discover student talents that would, if not given the opportunity, go unnoticed. Differentiated learning that assesses the entire student seems a perfect match.
There really are no boundaries for connections that are both positive and valuable with in-context learning activities for students. For instance, there are no reasons why a project about climate change and weather shouldn’t include musical weather renditions, along with how weather affects sport, or ways in which weather has been portrayed in art, either. Digital tools can enhance all those things. Students anywhere, today, can virtually first-hand experience what weather is like from Manchester, UK, to Maine, USA—without leaving their seats, using technology. Science combined with geography, and all the other disciplines makes the reporting extensions in text, audio, and video perfect—and without a stretch of its education importance. The best part of that, is it can be done in real-time, and assessed in real-time, using digital devices and education solutions that are specifically designed for those purposes.
When many disciplines are involved students have more options of interest to learn more, and for many it makes learning just more fun. They will talk about their learning at school, after school, and with their parents, too. It can be the highlight of conversation at conference time as well. And those meeting sizes can and should stretch to include other faculty in all department areas involved, and not the just homeroom teacher. That sort of in-context universal meeting is worth every minute. Collaborative teaming done right, may keep talk away from lack of homework, or behavior, or grade percentages dipping at those meetings as well. Smiling parents and students leaving student/parent conferences will put smiles on school leaders’ faces, too.
If it can be arranged, a simple and natural way to help make differentiated instruction more likely to happen in schools, and to help share collaborative instructional technology, with cooperative team-teaching assignments, is when teacher room assignments can include that all disciplines are housed in nearby classrooms. Sometimes, departments are separated, and rarely have daily contact with other teaching staff in other content areas. That approach keeps educators apart, who should be working with each other, and keeps ideas from sprouting into great projects for students. Working closer can help to avoid hearing that a teacher, and his/her students, would have enjoyed collaborating—if they had only known. And that’s another positive thing interdisciplinary learning can do. Collaborative projects throughout disciplines and with many supportive staff members participating are the right things for students to experience. It is more the real world. Working alone is wonderful, but working with others is a valuable life experience. Warning: there will be more to assess, but chances are the measure of student successes will fill in more of a student’s complete learning story.
There is no better way than through interdisciplinary learning projects to empower educators to collaborate through their own disciplines/curriculum, skill sets, and interests. It is exactly what their students will experience as well. It really is full and complete collaboration by all. While learning can happen in isolation, it can be so much more rewarding when shared. Differentiated lessons, in which many disciplines are active, can be the lessons that continues for a lifetime.
While the ideas aren’t new, the technology techniques for doing these things are on their way to, or have, become teaching and learning ubiquitous. The time excuse has been removed as well. There is time, now, in every class day for the student participation necessary, and the assessment needed for every student. Bringing differentiated learning to the digital age makes sense for teachers teaching in it, and students living in. Bring it all together.
Editors Note: If you haven’t taken a look at ClassFlow, it might be a good time to see if it can help your school or district differentiated or interdisciplinary learning initiatives.
About the Author:
Ken Royal is an educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience, as well as a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is a Promethean storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.