by Laurie Kimbrel, Ed.D.
On of the qualities of an excellent educator is the belief that every student can and must learn at high levels. High quality teachers also know that some students need more time or support in order to reach expected levels of proficiency and that it is their role to provide the learning experiences necessary to produce student growth. One of the biggest challenges of teaching is that in a typical classroom, the students have a wide range of abilities, interests, backgrounds and readiness for learning the content.
There are a multitude of techniques that excellent teachers use to ensure that they meet the needs of the wide variety of students in their classrooms. Here are just a few strategies for educators to consider as they develop plans to meet the diverse needs of their students. Of course, all of these strategies have a time and a place and are not appropriate on every occasion. Similarly, some of these strategies can require additional work on the part of the teacher and so they should be used as time permits.
Focus on Student Interests
Great teachers take the time to know their students both on both an academic and personal level. It’s important to understand a student’s interest beyond the classroom. What do they enjoy doing in their spare time? What motivates them outside of school? One of the most powerful ways to motivate students in the classroom is to incorporate their interests into what they learn. Determine methods and times to allow students to choose the topics that they want to talk about. When possible, incorporate their interests into the content or assignments. A focus on student interests can also be a powerful relationship builder. It matters to a student that the teacher has taken the time to understand their passions and interests.
Increase Student Choice in Assignments and Assessments
Students can demonstrate an understanding of content in a number of ways. Many teachers successfully use student choice as a method to increase engagement and motivation. Consider offering a variety of options for an assignment. If the purpose of the assignment is understanding of a key concept, why not let some students write about it, allow others to present to the class or have a one on one conference with the teacher. If the learning goal includes written communication, offer choice in terms of the topic or area of research.
Technology as a Tool to Enhance Instruction
Students are digital natives and often feel more comfortable working with technology than adults. Some students are more likely to be more engaged when they use electronic devices in class or to complete homework. It is important to note that technology should not be utilized for the sake of having a device in front of the student. It should enhance the lesson and the content rather than becoming the sole focus.
Student Collaboration in Groups
Students often benefit from collaborative work with their peers. There are a number of ways to group students in order to maximize the learning experience. Some teachers prefer to allow students to choose their own groups so that they are able to work with friends. Others prefer to arrange students into mixed ability groups so that stronger students have the opportunity to re-teach or provide leadership to struggling students. Still other teachers use a variety of groupings so that students have experience working successfully with a variety of peers.
Focus on Equity versus Equality
If we truly believe it is our role to ensure that all students learn, then our focus should be on equity versus equality. A focus on equality would mean that every student has the same instruction and amount of time to learn. However, we know that some students need more time or support and so our focus should be to ensue equitable outcomes. If a student needs more time to learn and demonstrate mastery, then it should be provided. If a student needs more support then the teacher should work both individually and with his or her colleagues to provide it as well. Learning is not a race. Those who master a concept quickly should be provided opportunities to deepen and apply their learning but students who take more time should not be left behind.