1. Students benefit from differentiated instruction.
2. Students benefit from making decisions regarding their own learning.
For more information about what I believe strongly about please subscribe to this blog and read past posts, I typically write about things in which I hold strong feelings. Well that said, my own personal experience led me to question these very beliefs.
Throughout the year I present to various education groups on a myriad of subjects, one being technology. It bothered me that I present a technology seminar, or one-hour technology workshop primarily direct instruction, not the style I use when teaching elementary students in my gymnasium. I contemplated the challenge of how to meet all the participants learning levels. I think of these learner levels being divided up into three categories: those who need introductory material, middle of the road learners who follow along and the third level being those who benefit from more complex material. These three levels are typical of most learning scenarios. When teaching physical education, I easily differentiate through activity choices, equipment choices, rule variations, peer teaching, and use of technology to better meet every students’ needs. But when leading professional learning seminars, a student centered approach with differentiation and student choice becomes a challenge.
After contemplating this dilemma, I spoke about it with some friends on Voxer. One easy fix was to use NearPod or PearDeck as a presentation tool. These platforms allow participants easy access to web material without typing in URLs, in addition, I can insert formative questions to check my teaching pace and student comprehension.
Still looking for better ways to differentiate, conversations with brilliant David Tran (@pewithmrt), who like me, was looking for better ways to differentiate learning when leading seminars/professional development. Using a Google Form, David created a matrix of self-paced learning. So when I was asked to present at a Google Gathering on Flipped Learning, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to use a similar matrix.
This idea isn’t new to flipped learning. Typically students go through self paced learning modules, watching instructional videos or reading instructional text. My set up included using a Google Form, YouTube Videos and the “go to page based on answer” option in Google Forms. Honestly, I thought it quite smart of me to use a Flipped Learning, self-paced learning module to instruct participants through the steps to set up Flipped learning in their classrooms.
But when I inquired to how David’s training went, he said he was surprised that participants didn’t seem too excited about the self paced learning idea. Because I really believe this method is what is best for learners, I didn’t listen. I falsely thought, “something about David’s situation must have been different.”
Fast forward to my presentation, I started with a great lesson introduction to flipped learning. I used PearDeck so my participants easily got to the Google Form where they could drive their own instruction, choosing lessons and pace.
However, this was NOT the way my participants DESIRED to learn. They didn’t want a self paced lesson, where I facilitated their individualized learning by answering questions, and clarifying any understandings.
Participants weren’t unappreciative, but I could tell they would have preferred me to use a direct teaching method, they wanted the dog and pony show. The beginners wanted to sit and just take in information. The middle of the road learners wanted me to start at point A and drive them in a luxury vehicle to point Z. The gifted learners, they too wanted the A to Z. I learned many of the gifted learners just desired to be affirmed that what they know is correct, with the hope of picking up just a few tidbits of information.
For days I reflected on my presentation. What happened? Was the educational research regarding choices and differentiation wrong? Did I misread my students? Are adult learners different? I decided that while David’s and my participants didn’t prefer this style of learning, it doesn’t mean I need to throw it out. In my zeal to differentiate and allow for student choice, I didn’t analyze the different learners.
One group of learners is comprised of students traveling through their compulsory school day, landing in physical education, and definitely benefiting from and appreciating differentiated learning and student choices. The other group is comprised of adult learners who have already made decisions about professional development and session choice, with the expectations of being taught. I learned the typical professional development attendee doesn’t want an individualized self-paced learning session in place of an entertaining presenter who walks participants through a step by step process maximizing participant engagement.
Have I changed my beliefs? No. I still believe students benefit from choices and when I can differentiate instruction, my students’ engagement and learning increases. However, I learned adult professional development participants hold different expectations regarding their learning preferences. The self-paced learning matrix is a fantastic follow-up resource to a dynamic direct instruction presentation.