The following is an abstract written by two of our early career teachers for a workshop to be presented at the PBL Symposium, held at Republic Polytechnic in Singapore in March this year. Melba Constantine has been appointed as the leader of the HSIE faculty for 2015. She has extensive experience in teaching PBL within an integrated curriculum and has undertaken training in PBL with the NewTech Network in the USA.
Whilst PBL and differentiated instruction is embraced in many elementary and secondary schools internationally, minimal literature exists on the implementation of differentiated practices in tertiary institutions (Santangelo & Tomlinson, 2009). At higher levels of instruction, educators adopt conventional methods of pedagogy, such as whole-group lectures, where student learning and engagement is indifferent to learning needs. (Joseph, 2013; Gibson & Hasbrouck, 2008). Gregory & Kuzmich (2004), highlight that different student learning profiles present challenges for lecturers as “not all students learn the same thing on the same day in the same way” (p.2). To respond to the changing nature of education, this workshop will present a range of differentiated teaching strategies that educators can employ within various educational contexts. The focus of this workshop will be ‘How can differentiation be employed in a PBL classroom to promote an inclusive and engaging environment for all students?’ In accordance with andragogy theories, differentiation strategies utilised in a PBL environment are relevant to adult learners as an adult’s orientation to learning is “problem-centred…adult’s learn best when new knowledge, skills and attitude are presented in the context of real-life situations.” (Ozuah, 2005, p.84). From attending this workshop, participants will gain a theoretical and practical framework of how they can assist learners with varying learning styles to access content as well as develop the 21st Century skills necessary to become active, informed and successful global citizens.
While the concept of differentiated instruction is not new, its definition and interpretation has evolved overtime. Currently, differentiated instruction is understood to be a “way of thinking about the classroom with the dual goals of honouring each student’s learning needs and maximizing each student’s learning capacity” (Tomlinson & Eidson, 2003, p.3). Tomlinson (1999) has identified four classroom elements that are commonly differentiated to meet the individual learning needs of students: content, process, product and learning environment. In this workshop participants will have the opportunity to engage in a series of sessions (4 in total) based on practical ways in which the content, process, product and learning environment of a PBL classroom can be differentiated. Each workshop will be 20 minutes in total and will conclude with discussion protocols to clarify participant questions.
Content differentiation allows for core learning standards to remain constant, whilst educational approaches to address these standards may be varied and adjusted for different learners (O'Meara, 2011). Although, content differentiation is effective in recognising student readiness, interests and learning preferences, educational institutions are not implementing this practice regularly or adequately for gifted and talented students (Renzulli, 2005). Consequently, this has lead to the global underachievement of gifted and talented students (Reis & McCoach, 2001). Specifically in Australia, studies have speculated that the number of underachieving gifted students lies between 10% (Wills & Munro, 2001) and 50% (Hoffman, Wasson & Christianson, 1985; Seeley, 1993).
Based on these research findings, this workshop intends to showcase content differentiation strategies suited to different learning needs, specifically gifted and talented students. The prime strategy that will be explored in this seminar is curriculum compacting. Curriculum compacting is a “process to streamline and modify the grade-level curriculum by eliminating material that students have previously learned” (Siegle, 1993). The benefits of curriculum compacting have been highlighted within academic literature, with the broad majority of academics reporting on its success when implemented consistently within the classroom. Renzulli, Smith & Reis (1982) have discovered that curriculum compacting alleviates gifted students of the “boredom” that often results from “unchallenging tasks” as advanced students have the time to pursue accelerated or enrichment activities. While this workshop will approach curriculum compacting from a PBL perspective, the strategies provided can be successfully applied within varying pedagogical frameworks. Participants will be provided with scaffolds and resources to effectively implement the three stages of curriculum compacting: i) defining goals ii) identifying students who have already mastered content objectives and iii) providing acceleration and enrichment options (Reis & Renzulli 1992). The enrichment activities, which will be focused on in this workshop, are the enrichment triad model and literature circles.
Differentiation of the learning process involves examining “how teachers teach and how students come to understand new information” (Gayle, 2012, p.11). Differentiating the learning process is imperative as it provides students with the opportunity to engage in a variety of learning activities that promote their cognitive growth (O'Meara, 2011). Scaffolded instruction will be the strategy explored in this workshop to demonstrate differentiation of the learning process. While this strategy has found great success with lower ability students, it is one, which is of benefit to all learners. Scaffolded instruction allows advanced, moderate and lower ability students to comprehend information at their own levels, all while working toward a common standard (NSW Department of Education and Training, 2004 and Gayle 2012). Applebee (1986) reports that scaffolded instruction is effective in creating inclusive, structured and engaging classroom environments as students take an “active role” and “gain “ownership” of their learning due to tasks becoming manageable and achievable.
The types of scaffolding that will be examined in this workshop are soft and hard scaffolds. The soft scaffolds that will be presented are peer-coaching strategies modelled on critical friends protocols and questioning techniques based on Bloom’s taxonomy. Hard scaffolds that will be exhibited include graphic organizational methods, specifically, infographics and persuasive writing tools, such as, HOT Paragraphs. From this workshop participants will gain a range of materials to help students at all levels become self-confident and capable learners within their classrooms.
Products and Learning Environments
Differentiation of products and learning spaces create collaborative classroom environments in which students have “voice and choice” in determining the ways to demonstrate their learning. Students gain opportunities to solve real-world problems in differentiated classrooms by “designing their own inquiries, planning their learning, organizing their research, and implementing a multitude of learning strategies” (Bell, 2010, p.2). Bell (2010) notes that students excel under this student-centred approach to learning as they gain valuable thinking and communication skills to make active and informed decisions.
In this workshop participants will engage in speed creating and jigsaw activities, to illustrate the effectiveness of creating learning environments that foster student’s interest, readiness and learning preferences.
From attending this workshop, it is hoped participants will develop a deeper understanding of how differentiation can be employed in any pedagogical environment to create an inclusive and engaging classroom environment. Participants will be provided with an activities booklet along with further support material to assist them with the implementation of differentiation within the classroom.
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