Sunday, July 22, 2012

Differentiating Instruction Through the Use of Technology and Universal Design for Learning

Most teachers will tell you that the most difficult part of their job is providing instruction that meets the needs of today’s diverse student population.  Large class sizes, varying skill levels, and different environmental circumstances are just some of the challenges present in many classrooms in The United States. 
            One solution many schools are entertaining to make learning more accessible and individualized is Universal Design for Learning (UDL).  This concept regards how schools approach both physical and instructional design challenges.  UDL, as stated in the text Transforming Learning with New Technologies , considers the recent discoveries about neurological processing when planning the physical layout of a school as well as the curriculum.  The goal of UDL is to create a learning environment that accommodates a vast spectrum of student needs. 
            A key component of UDL is the use of technology in schools.  Due to technology’s flexible and malleable nature, teachers can tweak digital resources to meet student needs.  When designing a classroom curriculum, teachers can make high, mid, or low tech changes to their classrooms to meet the needs of the students.  Low tech is the easiest and most inexpensive change and it does not include the application of any electronic materials.  Mid tech refers to a shift in the planning and implementation of curriculum that includes some technologies.  High tech is a more forceful shift that includes the integration of technology into the classroom curriculum.  For example, the use of post-it notes is a low tech change.  Word processing would be considered mid tech, and a high tech example is the use of a tablet with a stylus. 
            Specifically, assistive technologies are especially useful to accommodate all learners. Assistive technologies make materials more accessible to the student.  Some assistive technologies include electronic spellers and dictionaries, handheld calculators, speech recognition software, text reading software, and interactive electronic storybooks. 
            As an elementary school reading teacher, there are many assistive technologies that I would like to use with my students.  Many of the students I work with are English language learners therefore electronic dictionaries and spellers would significantly help students increase vocabulary and become more familiar with English spelling patterns.  Another assistive technology I would like to utilize more is speech recognition software.  Many students are very reluctant writers because they believe they have no good ideas.  Often times these students are quite verbally expressive and have great potential as writers.  Perhaps if students could record their thoughts and witness them transferred into text, they would be more confident and motivated writers. 
            Due to the variation of reading levels among students, text reading software and digital storybooks make differentiation easier.  Not only does text reading software make texts more accessible to students of lower reading abilities, they are also great models for fluency.  Many second language learners have difficulty with phrasing and pronunciation.  They need repeated experiences hearing fluent readers.  Text reading software provides endless opportunities to hear fluent reading.  Digital storybooks offer a similar accommodation with the added bonus of being stimulating and of high interest to the child. 
            Finally, technology plays an important role in the writing process.  The biggest challenge when teaching writing is convincing students that they are capable of producing quality texts.  The trick to producing good writers is getting them excited about a topic and giving them the support they need to successfully produce writing regarding that topic.  Unfortunately each student works at their own pace in the writing process.  Technology can provide individualized instruction every step of the way.  Prewriting can be done use recordings, Smartboards, and interactive story writing software.  Drafts can be created through word processing, tablets, and text to speech software.  Revisions are more easily made with the use of editing software such as spelling and grammar check.  Emails and discussion boards can also provide a way for students and teachers to give suggestions, support, and feedback.  Finally, the choices for publishing formats are greatly increased with technology.  Students can create websites, PowerPoints, digital portfolios, movies, and digital art work to name a few. 
            As you can see, technology is a tremendous help to any teacher struggling to meet the needs of his or her students.  Hopefully in the future all students will have more access to technology so they can reach their full academic potential. 

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