Cindy Sequeria is a Grade 4 homeroom teacher at The Gera School. She has been in academics for over two decades and is a hands-on involved teacher, teaching Math and science.
Over the decades teaching has evolved. Every professional needs to be updated in his/her field. Teachers too cannot expect to teach 21st century learners with redundant or old methods that might have worked for them when they were young. A teacher can no longer compete with the wide range of technology advancement with a chalk and whiteboard. Children are now more diverse than they used to be, with various and diverse career aspirations. There is an increased use of technology, a teacher is now responsible and accountable both for good quality teaching and assessing. Teachers the world over follow the practice of assessing their work and testing if their practices need improvement, checking constantly their strategies and tailoring them as per student needs. For this the teacher needs to cater to the individual needs of each and every learner. The teacher’s fundamental task is to get students to engage in learning activities that are likely to result in achieving [the intended learning] outcomes. It is helpful to remember that what the student does is actually more important that what the teacher does. (Schuell, 1986, p.429). This is where the four key words-Activity, application, Interaction and differentiation come into play. We all know that learning takes place best through doing and hands on activities. Just as a picture speaks a thousand words, an activity well thought of, interactive, and differentiated as per learner needs can meet both learning objectives as well as fulfill success criteria. A teacher has to be sure of what learning outcomes are desired to be tangibly seen and assessed and what activities that involve differentiation, interaction, experimentation, research and investigation can be integrated in the classroom as well as outside of it. Every learning activity in your unit should be intentional, meaningful and useful.
What is the objective of differentiation? It is to strengthen or enhance the performance of each and every student in the classroom, including those who are falling behind and those that are highly able academically gifted. Differentiation benefits students across the learning continuum. Each and every student is catered to through this methos and students learn as per the level they are at and can be guided to the next level through varied activities.
Teachers who practice differentiation in the classroom may design their lessons based on students’ learning styles, group students by shared interest, topic, or ability for assignments, assess students’ learning using formative assessment and create a safe and supportive environment through classroom management. The strategies that a teacher may use to differentiate in her classroom are a flexible-pace learning, collaborative learning, progressive tasks, digital resources, verbal support and ongoing assessment. It is equally important that each activity is meaningful, and ensures student development and advancement through the unit. Activities should build on previous activities and avoid being repetitive, they should enable students to engage with and develop their skills, knowledge and understandings in different ways. Meaningful activities engage students in active, constructive, intentional, authentic, and cooperative ways.
In a useful learning activity students should be able to apply what is learnt and be able to apply it in another context for another purpose. For example, students are able to directly apply the skills or knowledge they acquired to an assessment task on data handling using bar and line graphs, or to a new unit in science where they are plotting graphs to show which flowers attract certain pollinators in your unit. These are the skills which when intentionally developed by a teacher through the way a lesson is designed and executed in the classroom, help make a lesson both interactive and experiential as well as differentiated.
Content provided either through live teaching or video or PowerPoint presentation helps interaction. Oral information interspersed with written or visual text either visual or aural in 4–7-minute blocks, with short interactions in-between in which students respond to questions helps interaction with other learners. For example, ask the students a question that requires them to apply, summarise, explain or identify etc. an important aspect of the information just presented. After asking the question, wait 10 to 15 seconds before asking for volunteers, or calling on a randomly selected student to respond. (It may be useful to provide a visual clue for students identifying that after posing the question you would like to them to consider a response and remain silent for the designated amount of time.)
After a student has responded to the question, call on another student to summarise the first student’s response. Alternatively, if the first response was not completely accurate, invite the second student to respond to the first student’s answer (e.g., “[name] what do you think about that – would you agree?”
Teaching-Learning is a continuous process, like two sides of a coin and can get monotonous or boring over time if not handled intentionally to create maximum interaction and experience as well as cater to individual student needs. The aim of education should be to create and independent and active lifelong learner, unlike the past where students were mostly passive learners. This is where activity-based learning, comes into play and conventional methods become vital.
The following are tips to make learning more interactive, experiential and differentiated
1) The use of real objects –When a teacher uses tangible objects that learners can touch, feel see and experience, she opens up the doors to learning. Real objects work better when trying to understand them rather than something virtual or imaginary. All subjects especially math and Science lessons can be extremely interesting through this method of teaching. This is a two-way process in which the highlight is that efforts are expected and can be from both the sides – teachers and students. Say, the class is going to be about the classification of plants, students can be asked to collect different varieties of plants and the teacher can teach them about the plant during class. If it is a math class, students can be made to bring in examples of cubes and cuboids around and use a ruler to measure and calculate area and perimeter in the given units/square units.
2) Power Of Projects: For young students, parents help in making projects (3D Models) and for older ones, they do it themselves. For e.g. They can be made to design their dream home, or a periscope. They may be asked to make a model of the Water Cycle. Whatever the project, it helps students familiarise with the project topic they are working on. Regular project work not only increases subject knowledge but also breaks monotony and increases the curiosity to learn more and with clarity.
3) The use of simulations and simulated activities: It is not always possible due to time constrains and availability or resources to conduct activities. At these times simulations are extremely helpful! For example, when teaching a topic like Probability on math or nets of cubes and cuboids, or time lapse videos to show the pollination of flowers, etc
4)Additional Information: An educator must always be prepared with additional information on the topic being taught. Students know a lot mor now that they did before and a confident and well-informed teacher is an inspiration. Additional interesting facts can boost the understanding and interest of the students. Internet resources are in plenty and can be made use of.
4) Nearpod App: This interactive app gives you the option of asking open ended questions, using the collaborative board, using 3D animations, taking virtual tours, all of which help to make learning more interesting and interactive. The teacher is able to see and give instantaneous feedback on student responses. Learners can also give each other feedback as well as have healthy discussions through opinions expressed.
5) Experts in a field -When an expert in a field is invited to interact with students, they can be inspired and motivated to pursue their passions and make some meaningful contributions to society. For example, when a topic on Earth’s Movement is being done a resource person from the Astronomical Society can be invited to share his/her experience with the students. The same can be done by inviting experts in the field of science, medicine, math, literature as and when the opportunity arises.
Interactions, participations, discussions, discoveries and analysis make learning both interesting and effective. Both teaching and learning can be done using questioning and interaction. The onus lies on the teacher to make classroom sessions will be creative, collaborative, exploratory and experiential. Conceptual clarity along with Experiential & Interactive Learning are the most important aspects which are needed for the students to compete in this fast world rather than rote learning.