Differentiated Learning for Diverse Classrooms – by Neeraj Mohan Puri, Principal – Modern Sandeepni School, Pathankot
Diversity means recognizing the fact that people surrounding us are unique in one or the other way. Diversity in classroom could be understood as pupils with differentiated set of skills. This distinctiveness may be on the basis of reading level, cultural background, personality, athletic ability, religious beliefs etc.
Defining Differentiated Learning:
Differentiated Learning is a technique of teaching and learning for diverse classrooms. It is a process of customising the classroom instructions according to needs of the students. When pupils with distinct abilities are studying in the same class, then differentiated learning is best resort. The objective of differentiating instruction is to ensure maximum academic growth of every student and assist them in meeting individual success. It is also popular as personalised or customised learning.
Not all the children are alike. This old adage is very apt in current scenario. Diversity in the classroom is an age old phenomenon, but in prevailing time it is vital to embrace it and use it positively as strength. As modern societies are moving towards cosmopolitan culture, it is imperative that we train our students for diverse workforce. The fact cannot be undermined, that due to urbanisation every school is enrolling students with diverse socio-economic background. Therefore, we have to drill and grill our students to learn how to collaborate with the people who have distinct perspectives. As educators it is our sole responsibility to teach our students how to manage diversity.
In diverse classrooms teachers need to modify their instructional plan according to the need of the students. Gen Z kids build up new concepts using their insight. There is no denying the fact that children today are very inquisitive but their learning patterns are different. They cannot be compelled to learn at teachers will. As a single pill cannot cure every disease, similarly in diverse classrooms same pedagogy cannot fulfill the needs of all. Here comes in the model of differentiated learning. To make classroom transactions result oriented under diversity teachers need to upscale themselves. It is not everybody’s cup of tea. Educators have to think like a Mentor and they need to recognize student’s aptitude, knowledge, preferences & language understood by him or her. This approach of teaching and learning enable students to grasp the concepts and make sense of the ideas.
To achieve equitable learning opportunity target, our educational system need to shift its focus from churning engineers, doctors, lawyers, managers to become more adept at understanding how our children can successfully and happily lead their life while contributing in Nation building. Now when government at centre is toiling hard to frame New Education Policy it is high time to incorporate Differential Learning Policy in diversified classrooms. Otherwise, the story would remain the same. Statistics released by World Economic Forum (2018) highlights the plight of Indian education system with rest of the world. We are ranked 37th rank in the world. The prime reason for this backwardness can be accounted to inappropriate National Education Policies framed so far with only focus to improve literacy rate, but now after 7 decades of Independence the goals need to be revisited. Even Multinational Corporations prefer to have diversified workforce. John F. Kennedy has very aptly quoted that “Change is the law of life”. In 21st century, the role of education is to prepare students to take on global competition, industry ready, employable and be entrepreneurs. It is therefore, necessitated to bring under the umbrella those who had been underserved for ages. For this, diversification in classroom has to be converted as strength.
Strategies of Differential Learning in Diversified Classrooms:
Vygotsky’s coined a theory and notion of Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). This theory propounds that there exist a gap between learner’s current or actual development level, which is dependent upon independent problem-solving abilities and the learner’s emerging level of growth. Therefore, diverse classrooms must implement this theory and make the best use of its students’ ZPD. Child has to be the epicentre of learning process. Teacher should act just as a facilitator to arrange all the resources set the tone create an aura maintain the decorum and let student learn independently. Of course, facilitator has to monitor the progress of the learner provide every necessary support required by the subject. These strategies could be implemented in a classroom which is supporting the model of differentiated instruction. Individual, small group and whole group activities could be incorporated. Through these activities phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension and writing can also be taught.
I am of the opinion that customisation of the syllabi as per the abilities of the students must be done to make them study under stress free environment. Purpose of education is not to fill the empty vessels rather to empower children to think, create, decide and lead. To accomplish this gargantuan mission involvement of every child is important. No child should be left out or ignored because he is different. Teachers need to equip themselves to handle every pupil sitting in the class irrespective of his or her IQ level. No child should be deprived of the opportunity just because (s)he is less advanced as compare to his peer. We have to design a strategy that every child is taken care of. Pedagogy has to be restructured as per the needs of the child. All the initiatives of HRD or CBSE like Sarv Shiksha Abhiyaan, Happy curriculum, happy schools, inclusive education, CCE, are somehow interdependent on each other. These objectives can be attained only by implementing differential learning policy.
If Nation is aiming for quality education then diversity in classrooms has to be taken into consideration. To make a mark in education and to carve a niche for ourselves globally equal learning opportunities have to be ensured for all the students. For this to happen Curriculum planners and content designers have to bear in mind the demographics of the children sitting in the classrooms. If a nation really considers its children as future leaders and National resources then diversity is a serious business. School administrators will have to reconsider their approach towards the success of this seamlessly vital segment of students.
Growing diversity in today’s classrooms demands for personalised learning. This is why small classroom size of 15-20 is a benchmark. Personalised learning underscores the necessity of structured curriculum & pedagogy rather the strategy of instructions has to be spontaneous. It is imperative for the educator promoting personalised learning to understand how to engage, when to teach, how much to teach, what to teach, which way to teach his pupils. Technological innovations have made it is possible to teach right content through right medium at right time with right pace to right children. Technology has transformed almost every sector may it be banking, commerce, health then education is not any exception. Mentor should split the class in micro groups as per the abilities of the children. Thereafter, teacher should initiate adaptive learning interventions through technology. Customised capsule programs to support the dissimilar students must be executed to derive desired results.
Even in USA before 1960, educators believed that the diverse students perform poorly due to poverty, inability to understand English, low self esteem etc. With their progressive approach the educators take it on this challenge by providing more opportunities to these students by strengthening their self esteem bridged the language barriers with bilingual education program. Besides, principals also introduced multi cultural education. Many researchers—including Gloria Ladson Billings in Crossing Over to Canaan, Christine Sleeter in “Preparing Teachers for Culturally Diverse Schools: Research and the Overwhelming Presence of Whiteness, ”Lisa Delpit in Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom, and Geneva Gay in Culturally Responsive Teaching— highlights that when an educator is aware about student’s background, culture, and language can very immaculately design instruction that best meets the needs of diversified classrooms. This model can guarantee the success of such students.
A robust, research-based model prepared by Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence (CREDE) at the University of California, Berkeley comprises following standards of effective pedagogy for diversified students:
- Develop language and literacy across the curriculum—Apply literacy strategies and develop academic language competence in all subject areas.
- Design meaningful lessons—Connect curriculum to experience and skills of students’ home and community.
- Teach complex thinking—Challenge students with cognitive complexity.
- Teach through conversation—Engage students through dialogue, especially instructional conversation.
Teachers are the torch bearers. As committed crusaders they need to be accommodating and broad minded. First and foremost task of an educator is to make every student sitting in a class respect every culture, religion and language. Though there exist the diversity but students should not confine themselves to water tight compartments. Teachers should plan up some group activities by interknitting the heterogeneously diversified students to homogeneous strata. Parents’ mindset need to be changed. The biggest deterrent that mitigates the achievement of the child is the hypothetical expectations of the parents. They are not willing to accept that there exists a neurocognitive ability which differs in every child. Irrespective of this fact, they want their child to excel in every field thereby transferring the stress to the teachers and their own children. Consequently, restricting teachers to implement the diversified learning tools for diversified students.
In the times to come our schools are predicted to become increasingly more diverse. Principals will spearhead change and bring about improvement reforms. They will have to play a linchpin role to ensure that diversity in classrooms is handled in a culturally responsive and student-centered manner. Differential learning has to be practiced to confirm equity and social justice to all the pupils. The principal, being at the helm of the affairs and an instructional leader, must demonstrate how diversity can become value-added resource that will stimulate learning environment for school children and the community at a large. Late Ron Edmonds, Harvard University professor in 1978 said: “We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us. We already know more than we need to in order to do this. Whether we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far.” Hence, the crux is without ushering changes, the social and economic disparities and achievement gaps for those who are underprivileged historically will continue swelling, and we will be at risk of marginalizing more and more students.
Neeraj Mohan Puri
Modern Sandeepni School,