It’s fascinating, scary and an urgent call to action all jumbled into one.
Moving, for just a minute, beyond the issues of access, credentialing and the ‘ownership’ of knowledge, I wanted to highlight what the rise of online education is also bringing to light. (Thanks to Jeff Lail for giving me the space to talk this one out and articulate what’s been rattling around in my head for a while).
One advantage of online learning is perhaps the ability for educators to provide the same information in multiple ways. Different learning styles can be accommodated and students often highlight their appreciation of the greater control they have over their learning experience.
We call this differentiated instruction. We provide students with different ways and means to process and construct knowledge. We give students options when they must demonstrate what they’ve learned. We work to discover their needs and work to build experiences that set them up for individualized success. We see students from a place of potential and work to build on it, often scaffolding skills and experiences over time.
My brother is autistic. In his class this past year, some amazing teachers and educational assistants created a unique educational plan for him. He was given options for the work he had to complete and how he completed that work. Recognizing his unique set of learning preferences and challenges, his progress was measured using a variety of different tools and he had the option to express his knowledge using somewhat untraditional techniques.
We call this remedial education. Students in Sean’s class are first identified and labelled by what they can’t do. We work to discover what they are missing and try to teach it. We may see potential, but we also see great gaps between them and the other students. We build experiences that set students up for individual success, recognizing that, for them, success means something very different than what we would expect from a student in a more traditional classroom. These students are seen as unique and their learning environment reflects that. Knowledge is taught in increasingly advanced segments or modules to bring students to a competency level expected of the ‘typical’ student.
Have we already been ‘doing’ differentiated instruction but calling it something else? Why does it seem to take a recognition and a diagnosis of deficit before students are given the chance to learn in a space that best suits them?
The idea of differentiated instruction isn’t new or innovative. It’s already being done, packaged and labelled as remedial education. Creating unique learning plans based on students’ needs isn’t new, but perhaps we should start seeing these plans not only for students who can’t keep up or who need to catch up, but for any student who deserves a leg up as they pursue any form of higher learning.