Thursday, March 26, 2009

Using Web 2.0 in Differentiated Instruction to Multiple Intelligences

One of the greatest ongoing challenges for teachers has to do with differentiated instruction. There are ways that Web 2.0 can help.

First of all, folks in education most often think of differentiation in terms of academic ability/aptitude (whatever exactly that means). I tend to think of differentiation mostly in terms of multiple intelligences. By analogy, consider a movie set. Who is "smarter": the writer of the screenplay, the cameraman, the actors, or the electrician? Well, I certainly wouldn't trust the writer to set up the electricity on set, yet in a classroom setting the writer may well have proven to have been of the highest "aptitude" for academics -- a common perk of being strong verbally. Likewise, the actor may portray his character brilliantly, but you wouldn't want him behind a camera: the cameraman has got the visual thing going on.

Likewise, in a classroom, we need to recognize that different kids are good at different things. And they come to understand things in different ways. To assess all of them using the same tools might at first seem most appropriate, but in looking at the way in which kids whose strengths lie in areas other than the verbal and mathematical and the anti-motivational effects that failure brings with it, you may step back and reconsider the value in giving verbal and mathematical style assessments exclusively.

That does not mean, however, that everyone gets to do a diorama. Personally, dioramas are the bane of my existence. I remember having to do the darned things as a student and so totally hating my life as a result. One time, I let a cake burn in the oven and then cracked it in half and turned it in for a science project as what happens during an earthquake. Anyhow, the point is that multiple intelligences must be addressed specifically as the individual strength (or strengths) of each student. Just giving the entire class a video project is not fundamentally addressing multiple intelligence differentiation.

So, how in the heck are you supposed to address the individual needs of each student's learning strengths?

That's where Web 2.0 and that old educational term "formative assessments" come into play. Fortunately for us, Web 2.0 apps are as varied as the intelligences of our kids. So the trick is to use the apps on a formative scale to discover what peaks the interest and best work of different kids in your class. These formative assessments could be simple assignments to be done in a day or two: use Pixton to summarize the short story we read in class, make a song on Garage Band about the main character in the book and upload it onto ReverbNation -- or take the point-of-view of the character and have him or her create their own audio-documentary, form your own Ning-site book club. Right there, certain kids are going to perk up. At least you will get a better idea of who your visual, audio, and interpersonal students are. And that, to me, is part of what formative assessments should be about.

In a way, formative assessments are even more useful for the teacher than for the student. Because formative assessments are about figuring out what forms the student's way of approaching and understanding a concept.

Now, I know that a lot of teachers are going to immediately have the concern about how much time they could wind up wasting in the Internet wormhole. Well, I've done a bit of the work for you. First you need apps that are easy to use, are self-directed, and will actually demonstrate the understanding of the student in a formative way. The Web 2.0 tools we've been talking about for the last two month here on the blog work great. I'd suggest sitting down for a bit on your own and playing with them. See how they work and see what works for you personally -- it will certainly be something different than what works for some of your students; and that's the beauty of it.

Now, once you've done a few formative assessments, you then have a good idea about what kinds of assessments work best for different kids. So then, when it's time for your summative assessment, you can actually give differentiated 'missions' that all meet the same objective.

For example, say we've just read 'On the Road' in 10th grade English class. You first need to come up with an essential question. How 'bout: "What is the meaning of 'Beat'?" You would give your kids with verbal strengths tough essay questions or a text-heavy research question; your visual kids could use Red Studio to create an online exhibition; your audio kids could explore Be-Bop on and create their own radio station complete with 'DJ reviews'; your tactile kids could create objects that represent the characters in the book and then toss these objects online via 3D modeling apps; the kids who can't sit still could create a Beat-Generation based sport, videocam themselves playing and explaining the sport, and post it online to one of the myriad high school sports social networking sites. The options are endless -- once you know your options. In all of these cases, the kids are demonstrating in their own way their own understanding of the essential question.

I know some of you are scratching your heads. But, the fact of the matter is: the electrician is better at electricity than the screenwriter. So let him explore electricity. Electricity is amazing. So long as he can use his interest to come to an understanding of the essential question, why in the heck wouldn't you want him to?

As for the argument that this makes "more work" for the teacher... well, how long did it actually take you to give your formative assessments to distinguish the differentiation among your students' intelligences? A few minutes here and there. And, go figure, on top of that you could actually talk to them and find out a little bit about them. There are all sorts of ways to get a read on where your kids are coming from.

Once you've got that down, it's all just a matter of teaching and directing the students towards the completion of that summative assessment. And don't think of the summative assessment as something that needs to be completed in 40 minutes. That's so totally unauthentic. We're not trying to train our kids to stand in line at the DMV, for goodness' sake.

Let the summative assessment be ongoing and organic. Let ideas arise from out of your classroom discussions and from the student's ongoing and daily blog posts. The student's job is just to make sure that they are ready to go by 'opening day'.

Let the best practices in traditional pedagogy and Web 2.0 merge and work for you. And don't doubt that you can teach differentially to multiple intelligences.

1 comment:

  1. I think you hit the nail on the head when discussing the benefit of web 2.0 when addressing the needs of different students. Like you say, when you can get students doing work that teaches the concepts you're trying to get across, while tapping into their personal tastes that's when real education happens. If a student needs a sports social network to teach him or her how to write well, so be it.


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