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Texas ISD School Guide
Texas ISD School Guide

Articles for Teachers

Typical Lessons Don't Always Work
By:Sharon Liston

Reaching students has been a mystery for a long time. Teachers teach many lessons throughout the day. The lessons they create take time, hard work, and at times are quite extensive. They expect students to excel on their assessments. Unfortunately, once graded, teachers often discover that only a fraction of the class has passed the assessments. So what do they do? Differentiated Instruction may be the answer.

Action Research Question: What is Differentiated Instruction, why does it matter, and is it being used in the classroom?

Differentiated Instruction is teaching with student variance in mind. It means starting where the kids are rather than adopting a standardized approach to teaching which presumes all students of approximately the same age and same grade learn the same way. Differentiated Instruction is based on the following beliefs.

1. Students have their own learning styles.
2. Students need to have classrooms which allow them to be active learners, decision makers, and
problem solvers.
3. "One-size doesn't fit all"
4. Making meaning from material is more important that covering material.
5. According to Shivahn Fitzell and Susan Fitzell there are six types of learners; linguistic, logical-
mathematical, bodily kinesthetic, spatial, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic.

Methods of Collecting Data

Classroom observations were the first step of my action research process. I observed two classrooms. I observed each teacher two different days. The first teacher I observed was an elementary classroom teacher. She was teaching math the day I observed. She used the Smartboard to present a lesson and she had the students up moving around singing math songs. When I observed her on the second day she was teaching reading. She also incorporated the Smartboard into her lesson while introducing new vocabulary words. However, this time the students stayed in their seats.

The other teacher I observed was a middle school teacher. He has four Science classes throughout the day. I observed his class on two different occasions. He also used the Smartboard when reviewing vocabulary words.

Collecting data was the second step of the action research process. The first method utilized was a general survey given to fifty-two teachers. Twenty-three teachers returned their surveys. The first part of the survey asked teacher to write in their own words the definition of Differentiated Instruction. Other questions asked pertained to what DI is and isn't. Results of the survey showed that the majority of teachers feel Differentiated Instruction means they are creating lesson for the individual and creating different assessments for everyone. The survey also showed that the majority of teachers feel that DI is a grading nightmare because everyone is doing something different, and DI takes more time.

The third part of my data collection was from a survey handed out to students in the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. The surveys consisted of six learning categories; linguistic learner, logical-mathematical, bodily kinesthetic, spatial, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. Each category was separated into a box. Each box listed a variety of activities. The students were to read the activities and check off the activities they like to do. Once they finished checking off each category they were to add up all of the checkmarks. The category with the majority of checks in it is an indication of the student's learning style.

There were fifty-three students in the fifth grade who took the survey. The results of that survey were as follows. Twenty-three students felt they're learning style was interpersonal. This means they learn best by telling stories, role playing, and cooperative games. Fifteen were spatial learners. These students learn by creating posters, drawing maps, and graphing. Fourteen were intrapersonal. They learn best by keeping journals, reviewing and visualizing, and writing about personal experiences. Twelve were musical learners. These students learn best by creating raps, playing instruments, and writing to music. Nine students were kinesthetic learners. These students learn best by making up cooperative games, conducting hands-on experiments, and constructing models. Five students were logical/mathematical learners. These students learn best by comparing and contrasting ideas, creating patterns, and creating time lines. Three students considered themselves to be linguistic learners. Ideas for teaching these students include reading stories to others, retelling stories, and creating crosswords puzzles. None of the students felt they were a naturalistic learn. However, I would like to note that naturalistic learners learn by collecting and categorizing data, materials, or ideas. They also like to discover or experiment, take field trips, and study means of survival.

In the sixth grade there were forty-three students who took the survey. The results showed that seventeen students felt they were interpersonal learners, fourteen were intrapersonal learners, spatial and musical were tied at twelve, ten were kinesthetic, six were linguistic learners, four were logical, and one student felt naturalistic was their learning style.

In the seventh grade forty-five students took the survey. Twenty-three of them felt as though they were interpersonal learners, kinesthetic, and intrapersonal were tied at twelve students, seven were musical, five were spatial, four were linguistic, and three were logical learners. None of the students felt as though they were a naturalistic learner.

There were sixty-seven eighth grade students who took the survey. Thirty-five of them stated that interpersonal is their learning style, nineteen were intrapersonal, eighteen were musical, ten were kinesthetic, eight were spatial, five were logical, two were linguistic, and one was naturalistic.

Students do not learn the same way. The days of standing in front of the classroom, having students open their books, and following along as you read aloud are over. Furthermore, teaching with a one-size-fits-all attitude isn't reaching all learners. Today teachers need to compete with video games, iPods, cell phones, and texting. In addition students come from families that are split up, remarried, in the court systems, or facing a whole dynamic of problems. Traditional teaching isn't going to cut it anymore.

A teacher needs to understand her students learning styles. By doing this she/he will be able to create lessons that allow students to be active learners, decision makers, and problem solvers.

Based on the data collected in the teacher surveys, student surveys, and classroom observations I recommend the following:

1. Our school should require Differentiated Instruction at all levels.
2. Teachers should be made aware that DI doesn't mean you are creating individual
lesson and assessments. Instead you are incorporating the same lesson with
activity and assessment options. Teachers need to also be aware that DI once
established won't take any longer to implement than any other lesson.
3. Differentiated Instruction training is highly recommended.
4. Teachers should share ideas with each other.
5. Each teacher should receive a copy of a book on how to implement Differentiated Instruction.
6. Teachers need to give some kind of survey at the beginning of the year in order to get to know
their students and their learning style.
7. Teachers need to write lesson plans that incorporate as many different learning styles as possible.
8. Teachers need to implement these lessons throughout the year.
9. Teachers should be willing to change teaching strategies as needed.

Sharon Liston
Email: roubal312(at)comcast.net

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