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Reflections on a Lecture

Last night, I had the privilege to attend a special community lecture at Western Carolina University by Carol Ann Tomlinson, professor of education at the University of Virginia. I have been familiar with her work on differentiation for quite some time and highly recommend her books as informative, practical and “easy to read.”

Listening to Dr. Tomlinson speak passionately about the need for differentiation in our classrooms today, it reminded me of the many arguments I have heard for making the transition to 21st century classrooms. In this reflection, I would like to highlight on some of the points that she made and add some of my own thoughts.

1. Differentiation leads to self-confidence, a desire to continue learning, and greater understanding of content.

What struck me most about this statement was the fact that “understanding of content” was listed last. In fact, content was only a small portion of the evening’s information. The effects that providing student-centered learning offers for our students are far greater than a particular subject or test. Instead, when we find ways to meet the needs of our individual learners, we are communicating the idea that “You are important. What you need is valid.” Many children don’t get that validation in their homes and communities, so reinforcement of this nature at school is essential. By teaching students how to learn, we are offering them the ability to take those skills and apply them in many future contexts.

2. We need more pro-active differentiation, rather than re-active.

It is nearly impossible to plan for every possible scenario in the classroom. I have been teaching about writing friendly letters for 12+ years. I thought I’d pretty much seen it all. Last month, when I introduced them and asked my students if anyone had heard of a friendly letter, I got several responses. The first was “Yes. R. R is a friendly letter.” This incited a chorus of other letters that are apparently quite kind. I had to re-act in that situation, but you can bet that next year I will offer a better leading question. The ability to pro-actively differentiate can only happen in one situation – the one where you have taken a significant amount of time and interest getting to know your students carefully and deliberately. Knowing our students allows us to carefully plan for their deficits and have a plan in place to address them.

3. Our goal, in this time crunched school environment, is for students to learn as much and as efficiently as possible.

I love this quote and feel that it lends specifically to the use of technology in the classroom. When you are talking about learning content with efficiency and accuracy, computers and hand-held devices make it possible. Using technology to organize, track and monitor student progress overtime will definitely meet that need. It also goes back to the idea of pro-active differentiation. When I can plan need-based units of instruction for small groups of students or individuals, there are hundreds of free and small-fee programs available to help facilitate learning.

4. The skills that were once reserved for the top ten percent of learners are now required for all. ALL learners must be content creators.

Wow. The first point is especially poignant for me. Education has changed drastically. We, as educators, must keep up with the demands facing our students as they will enter the job market, whether right out of high school or with an advanced degree. It is not enough for students to regurgitate information and just organize old information. Students must be creators of content, both original and synthesized of already processed information.

5. ALL students need a pedagogy of plenty – high ceilings, high relevance and high personalization.

Love this. It should be a requirement in every classroom of every age. Period.

Dr. Tomlinson’s presentation from last night can be found at  http://bit.ly/dhDvLo.


10 Responses

  1. Great points, and great thoughts. If we know why we educate, and what the purpose is we must be very clear of our outcomes and understand the proper approach to reaching those goals.

  2. I am in Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 class at The University of South Alabama. I will be summarizing this post, the last post I commented on (“When I Grow Up”) and my responses to both on my blog. Check it out if you would like, http://broughtonsydneyedm310fall2010.blogspot.com/.

    This particular blog post was very enlightening and had some very good points. I agree that we need to validate our students and communicate to them that they are important. Since they may not be receiving validation from outside the classroom, we may be the only ones giving it to them. Children need those things to prosper and become better students and learners. I also believe, as you do, that we need to take a great amount of time to get to know all of our students.

    I was not aware of the positive impact of technology in schools regarding learning and teaching until Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 class. Technology is a great tool for the classroom. Students are required to learn, and teachers are required to teach so much information in such a short period of time that technology is almost necessary in the classroom.

    I was also in awe after reading the number four point of Dr. Tomlinson. I knew education was changing a lot, but I did not know that it was changing that drastically. We, as teachers, have to be on top of these changes at all times in order to be effective educators.

    Lastly, I agree with your opinion regarding point number five. I also love that point as well. Students always need to have those principles throughout their entire educational journey.

    I really enjoyed this blog post. Feel free to check my blog out!

  3. I agree that it is the job or educators to get to know their students. Also teachers should always be on the look out for ways to better teach their students.

  4. Sorry my bad of not or.

  5. Hi Mrs. Hines,
    It’s Katlyn again from EDM 310 with Dr. Strange. This post was very helpful, as are all of your blogs. I could not agree with you more about computers and hand held devices making learning content efficient and accurate. I did not realize how important technology was in education until I started this EDM class. There are so many advantages for students and teachers. I also agree with learners being content creators. Keeping up with education and demands facing students is very important and vital.
    I will be summarizing the two posts that I commented on. My blog is hurtkatlynedm310.blogspot.com if you want to check it out.

  6. Hello Mrs. Hines. I am a student in Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 class at the University of South Alabama. I really enjoyed reading your post and thought that the points that you highlighted from the lecture were all great ones. I definitely agree with the fact that differentiation leads to self-confidence in students and I hope to be able to create this benefit in my classroom when I begin to teach. It will be my goal to give my students every chance to be able to better understand the content of what I am teaching, and I feel that this is a great way to do just that. The other point that I really agreed with from on was that it is our goal to have our students learning as much as possible. I know that our ever enhancing classroom technology will definitely benefit us as a way to allow our students to learn as much as possible. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to entering the teaching world when so many technology advances are taking place! Your post was great and I have learned a lot from it. Thanks for sharing what you heard in the lecture so that future teachers like me can become more knowledgeable!

  7. Hi, I am in EDM310. I really enjoyed reading your reflections on a lecture. I agree fully with your number 1 point about meeting the child’s individual needs and making them feel valid. Children need to know that they have made a difference. We need to make sure every child is feeling a sense of accomplishment everyday when they leave our classroom. Your #2 comment about the friendly R was hilariously funny. We always have to be on a look out for these types of answers to questions we ask.

    I also agree with your point made in #3. I think technology is the way and I am wondering when our schools here in Alabama will catch up. They have started to install smartboards, but after watching a video that Dr. Strange had us watch for our upcoming demo on smartboards, I noticed children had a laptop that corresponded with the smartboard to make the lesson taught interactive. Well, I can say the schools my children are at are so excited about their new expensive smartboards, but the interactive laptops are not in the classrooms. So, now I just view the smartboard as a very expensive chalkboard. Children can come up to the smartboard to answer a question just as well as they could answer the same question written out on a chalkboard. So, where is the technological advancement if you have a smartboard without all the tools needed to make it fun and interactive for the children?
    I will summarize this comment on my blog…check it out if you get a chance. http://solanololaedm310.blogspot.com/

  8. I love this post! I love when you mentioned the part about getting to know your students! I couldn’t agree more! As a future educator, that is one of my main goals! It not only lets the students know that you care about them, but it equips you to be a better educator and have better reactions should problems ever arise! I would have loved to have gotten to hear this lecture! Thanks for posting about this!

  9. Mrs. Hines,

    My name is Regina Sawyer. I am an EDM 310 student from the University of South Alabama. I found your reflections on the lecture that you attended to be extremely insightful. I am very interested in incorporating technology, and emphasizing differentiated learning in my curriculum.. I believe these two topics go hand-in-hand. Students in the classroom are diverse individuals who exhibited unique characteristics which must be enhanced by the way they learn. These two issues in education are relevant in the classroom. Therefore, teachers must create a learning environment that meets the needs of all learns. Knowing your students, learning their strengths and weaknesses, utilizing technology, and monitoring student’s progress is essential.

    I also had an opportunity to review the lecture material from the link that you provided in your reflection. Thank you for passing along the information. It is great stuff! I look forward to reading other material that you post.

  10. […] View the original article here […]

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