Overview of Article
Differentiating instruction is described as a method of instruction that addresses the variations of students within the classroom, while at the same time maximizing each learner’s potential. In Joseph’s study, the use of differentiated instruction in the higher education setting is explored to determine if it enhanced student learning at a university over the course of one semester (2013). Strategies for differentiating and modifying content and processes were examined in three ways, which includes response to students’ readiness, learning profiles, and student interests. Higher levels of intellectual growth were reported as a result of differentiated instruction, which validates previous research (Ernst & Ernst, 2005); it is important to note that differentiated instruction has been extensively studied in elementary and secondary education, but there is little literature about differentiated instruction being implemented in tertiary education (Joseph, 2013). This study found the importance of choice as a crucial component of differentiating instruction with adult learners because they feel a sense of empowerment when deciding on their own activities, materials, and assessments. As such, the feeling of empowerment peaked student interest, intrinsic motivation, and engagement for all students in the classroom, including diverse learners. There are some challenges professors face in the classroom when implementing this strategy because it is not the traditional teaching approach in the higher education setting, however, the findings of Joseph’s study in addition to previous research shows the need for differentiating instruction and the need to incorporate students’ readiness, interests, and learning profiles for college students’ educations (Joseph, 2013).
American adult educator, Knowles, asserts adult learners learn differently from child learners. As such, a different type of education should be provided. In pedagogy, a subject-centered approach is still stressed, even with the shift towards a student-centered approach (Joseph, 2013). In andragogy, learning should problem-centered because adults learn best when they are able to use their skills, knowledge, and experiences. This model operates with the rationale that adult learners are self-motivated, want to learn, have relevant experiences, and seek practical information. Therefore, the way differentiated instruction is implemented is aligned with Knowles’ theory. The instructors of Developmental Math Program should use this information and the teach the class in a way such that the ways their students learn are considered.
In my classroom, I see that all of my adult students learn differently, which should reflect in my teaching. It is common knowledge that no two learners learn the same way, however, the traditional model teaching is still utilized in many classrooms in the higher education setting. Each student’s readiness and learning profile is also different, which means instructors need to provide appropriately challenging experiences for the students and different modes to do so. With the implementation of this technique, it would allow my students to use real life examples and experiences that are meaningful to them. This concept of making the course personally meaningful is especially important to my population of students because their successes and failures of this course will affect their future courses, graduation date, and overall outlook on learning. This journal article included student testimonials that express their feelings towards their class after instruction was differentiated. The students mentioned they enjoyed class, felt relaxed, and felt they were able to learn better. Students who are introverted and typically do not talk in class were engaged and participated in the study with the implementation of this teaching technique (Joseph, 2013). I have experienced that many times the student who is more of an introvert is “missed” because they are overshadowed by students who ask questions. Additionally, it difficult for a professor to “force” a student to talk if he or she does not want to; even so, part of our teaching philosophies should not be to “force” a student to do anything. His or her participation should be due to intrinsic motivators, the concept of feeling he or she has something valuable to contribute, and the idea his or her ideas in addition the group’s ideas will develop into something larger than what would have developed individually.
I believe the major obstacle with differentiating instruction in the Developmental Math Program is not in the “concept” doing so in the classroom, but in the training that is required to implement it efficiently within the parameters of the class. The concept of differentiating instruction is accepted in the program in regards to differentiating the material by ability and tracking, but instructors may not be completely aware of how to make this theory practical; there are ways to differentiate the topic, activities, and assessments, not just the material. Students need different resources and texts, different groups with similar learning profiles, tasks, and choices such that they can be an advocate for their own education. I feel that in order to do so, the instructors of developmental math need to be united in gathering student data, allow choices and different groupings, and use different modes of instruction throughout the semester. While the class is structured, the instructors do have some flexibility of the class activities. Additionally, the Developmental Math Program tries to look at each student holistically, which is in line with how differentiated instruction looks at learning and the students; therefore, this concept fits perfectly with its mission statement. Students are taught to look at problems and situations in multiple ways, which is exactly how math should be. However, without the proper training, the benefits of truly differentiating instruction will never be achieved. As such, the Developmental Math Program needs professional development on this teaching technique.
Ernst, H.R. & Ernst, T.L. (2005). The promise and pitfalls of differentiated instruction for undergraduate political sciences courses: Student and instructor impressions of an unconventional teaching strategy. Journal of Political Science Education, 1(1), 39-59.
Joseph, S. (2013). Strategies for enhancing student learning experiences in higher education. Caribbean Teaching Scholar, 3(2), 97-109.