By Heidi Raki
Differentiation and technology integration are two hot topics in education right now. They’re also two of my specialties, so I’d love to share 10 ways I like to differentiate instruction using technology.
These strategies and technology resources are purposely not specific to grade level or subject, in an effort to be valuable to teachers of all grade levels. And because everybody’s technology situation is different, I have provided you with additional differentiated instructions in case you have just one computer in your classroom.
These suggestions will also be appropriate to classrooms with two or three computers, any number that allows for small groups to share a computer. Some of these ideas also have suggestions for how to make tech-based differentiation work better with a one to one classroom set up.
1. Give middle-of-the-pack learners freedom
When working in leveled groups, give your low or middle group teaching websites like Moby Max, Khan Academy, IXL or Starfall. These types of websites give the group you are not with an additional “teacher.” I work with my lowest group myself and let my middle group use a teaching website while the higher groups work together independently.
One Computer Classroom Suggestion: If your classroom only has one computer, be sure that the computer is placed strategically away from your teaching group. This will allow students to watch videos or do assignments without headphones.
Additionally, for websites like Moby Max or IXL, set up an additional account that is the “Yellow (Middle) Group’s Account” so that students can work on practice problems as a group without messing up any individual student’s account.
One to One Classroom Suggestion: If you want students to discuss what they’re learning from the assigned teaching website, set up an Edmodo thread, Padlet board or Google Document so that they don’t have to wait for slower finishers to begin reflecting on their learning.
2. Turn students into teachers with presentation tools
When working in leveled groups, allow higher-level students to use presentation websites like Prezi, Powtoon and EduGlogs to create projects or videos to “teach” the other students while you personally work with lower-level students.
At the end of the lesson, review the projects or videos as a whole group to see if the highest group can add anything new to what you have reviewed with the low and/or middle groups.
One Computer Classroom Suggestion: Set up classroom accounts on Prezi, PowToon or EduGlogs so that the students can work together within one account. Have planning sheets available for students so they can plan collaboratively before they get onto the computer.
Have class rules and procedures for working on a group project. This reduces the amount of bickering once students are working on a computer, and prevents one student from doing all of the work.
One to One Classroom Suggestion: Have planning sheets available for students so they can plan before they get onto the computer. Encourage students to have another student review their plan before starting the presentation.
3. Encourage collaboration with Google Docs and Prezi
When using semi-permanent groupings like literature groups, use websites that allow multiple students to work in the same document simultaneously like Google Documents and Prezi so that they can create a collection of work collaboratively over a longer period of time.
One Computer Classroom Suggestion: Determine whose account students will use to work on their collective document ahead of time. You may also decide to have one classroom account that all students work on.
4. Use learning games to engage students outside of small groups
Use “computer learning games” to keep students engaged when you are pulling small ad-hoc groups to review specific skills, especially right before or right after a test. An easy way to do this is to use a Google Document or Edmodo post with links to the specific games that would help with a particular skill.
One Computer Classroom Suggestion: Group students based on their needs so that all the students working on the computer need to work on the same skill.
One to One Classroom Suggestion: Keep an ongoing document that links skills to online games or videos. This way, students can review skills previously covered at any time, and move onto new ones. This is a valuable document for every student, allowing everyone to hone their skills without their peers being able to single them out.
5. Record peer tutoring sessions to review later
Have students record their conversations during peer tutoring using screen recording software or note-taking apps with built-in audio software like Evernote. This allows you to check in and see if there’s anything information that was incorrect or needs following-up.
One Computer Classroom Suggestion: Substitute other technology, including simple digital voice recorders, cell phone cameras/audio apps, or even cassette recorders to do the same thing in a cheaper, more portable way.
One to One Classroom Suggestion: Let students practice with a combination of a chatting software like Google Hangouts or Skype Chats and a screen casting software like Screencast-o-matic. Review the tutoring sessions as a whole group and discuss the strengths and the weaknesses of the sessions; maybe even talk about how to conduct a webinar.
6. Use student-made video tutorials
Instead of using traditional peer tutoring, have students create a video or tutorial for other students using websites like PowToon and Screencast-o-matic. Pair older students with younger or lower-level classes, allowing everyone to be an “expert” and teach someone else what they know. After videos are complete, allow students to use the videos to review skills at their own pace.
One Computer Classroom Suggestion: Let students create their videos in groups. You may also want to try non-computer approaches to creating videos, like using a cell phone, video camera or tablet.
If you are in a one-tablet classroom rather than a one computer classroom, consider paying for apps like Explain Everything where students can save files and retrieve them later instead of having to stay in their video until it is complete.
7. Provide students with differentiated project options
Giving students a choice with in their projects is a great way to differentiate the project. You can have students choose their topic or subtopic, or give them a choice for how the information is presented.
Students can create videos with programs like PowToon or iMovie; presentations with programs like Prezi and Google Slides; virtual field trips with picture slide show software like Kizoa or online storybooks with Storybird. Technology gives us so many possibilities for projects.
One Computer Classroom Suggestion: Technology projects in a one-computer classroom often need to be group projects where each group rotates through the use of the computer. In this case, be sure to have an alternative activity available for those students who are not having access to a computer at that moment.
Also, give groups the option of both technology projects and non-technology projects like dioramas or song writing. These choices will reduce the number of students who need technology.
One to One Classroom Suggestion: Technology projects are awesome in a one to one classroom, but don’t forget to give students non-technology or partial technology projects. An example of a partial technology project might be for them to write a song about the topic and practice singing it, but then record the song in audio recording software like Audacity.
8. Make assignment resources available all year long
Student-paced learning is the ultimate differentiation. If you have a class where many students move on at their own pace, you might consider having videos and assignments available for your entire semester or even your entire course so that students can work at their own pace.
You can have these resources available to students through a series of Google Documents or Edmodo posts. Students can have links to videos or websites to explore, as well as a list of possible assignments and quizzes given through Edmodo quizzes or QuizStar.
Students work at their own pace through the assignments and lessons, with projects embedded throughout. This style of student-paced learning is especially helpful if you need students to have a similar stopping point.
One Computer Classroom Suggestion: Prioritize the computer for the few kids who are really far ahead, or really far below. Allow these students to work self-paced while you take the rest of the class through a typical day.
9. Encourage passion-based learning
Let students follow their passions through Be the Teacher Projects, Student-Led Inquires, Passion Projects, Genius Hour or 20% Time to get them more engaged in their learning. This is also a way for you to differentiate by bringing in each students’ individual interests and level.
Thanks to YouTube and other online video programs, students can teach themselves almost anything they want to know, as long as we teach them how to do the research appropriately. Allow students to use videos, websites and other resources, both on and off the Internet, to research a topic of their own choice, at their own pace.
Students can present the topics to their classmates, and the world, by creating a project. This project can be technology-based, using presentation or video creation software, or it could be a traditional of presentation with a poster or other props.
One Computer Classroom Suggestion: Group students based on interest and allow them to work together on the project. You may also want to prioritize your computer by asking students to either use it for research only or project creation only. Either of these will reduce the amount of time student spend trying to use it.
One to One Classroom Suggestion: Create a Google Document, Edmodo Group or Padlet Board where students who are working on similar topics can share their findings with each other. This encourages collaboration and increases the amount of research students have access to.
10. Encourage sharing of ideas
When using collaborative learning groups like jigsaw, inside outside circle, or think pair share, allow students to share their thinking using a message board like Edmodo or virtual bulletin boards like Padlet. This allows their ideas and resources to be reviewed and used by the class as a whole, while building a class document of learning that can be referred to during review or projects.
One Computer Classroom Suggestion: Have students do their brainstorming orally or written on small Post-Its. Then add the information to the virtual bulletin board afterwards as a group.
One to One Classroom Suggestion: You may still want students to do the movement of inside outside circle in order to activate thinking through movement and interaction. Afterwards, set a timer for 5 minutes and ask students to record as much as they can remember on the message board.