Providing instruction that is tailored to each student’s unique needs is essential to success as a teacher, but it requires a unique skillset.
In addition to laying out the federal government’s educational priorities, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is a statement of intent. From classroom teachers to district superintendents to Department of Education administrators, every stakeholder in America’s public school system is striving to ensure that every student is prepared to not only graduate high school but to pursue a meaningful career.
This is a noble goal, but making it a reality will involve providing educators with the requisite resources, knowledge, and skillsets to deliver personalized instruction to each of their students. No two learners are the same, and if we want to make good on the underlying promise of ESSA, we need to keep this truth in mind during all of our interactions with students.
For teachers, this means taking the time to learn how each of their students are different and how they can tailor their instruction to meet each student’s unique needs. Below we’ll explore four key teacher competencies, each of which plays a pivotal role in preparing teachers to deliver truly personalized classroom instruction.
Differentiated instruction is the heart and soul of personalized learning. As summarized by ASCD, “In a differentiated classroom, teachers divide their time, resources, and efforts to effectively teach students who have various backgrounds, readiness and skill levels, and interests.”
By adopting a differentiated approach to instruction, a teacher can respond more effectively to each student’s progress (or lack thereof), ensuring that everyone stays engaged and no one gets left behind. Ultimately, the first — and, in many ways, the most significant — step teachers must take in implementing differentiated instruction is reorienting their classroom from a teacher-led environment to an environment that is crafted both by and for each successive cohort of students.
Accommodating different learning styles and intelligence is the most straightforward way a teacher can differentiate their instruction. Not only does every student “connect the dots” in different ways as they learn new material, but a single student may work through different subjects in different ways, as well. Most people fit into one of five established learning styles — visual, logical, aural, verbal, or physical/kinesthetic — but each of these styles can be further differentiated by being either “social” or “solitary.”
Similarly, Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences proposes that (1) there is more than one kind of intelligence, (2) these intelligences can be taught, (3) our brains are as unique as our fingerprints, and (4) our intelligences are always in flux.
“Learning styles emphasize the ways that people think and feel as they solve problems, create products, and interact,” explains Hoonuit contributor Dr. Therese Kelly. “The theory of multiple intelligences is focused on how cultures and disciplines shape human potential. Learning styles are concerned with the differences in the process of learning, whereas multiple intelligences center on the content and productsof learning.”
Many factors influence students’ preferred learning styles, but few play a more significant role than their personal backgrounds. Students from different cultural, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds often require instruction that is tailored to their way of experiencing the world.
That said, research has shown that it’s absolutely essential for teachers to set and maintain standards that are equally rigorous across all demographic subsets. In other words, while teachers should make room for students from varying backgrounds to learn (and demonstrate their learning) in different ways, they should never assume that a student with a less-than-common background is any less capable of excellence than their peers.
Tech-based tools can be an incredibly efficient way for teachers to make their instruction accessible to learners of all types, but they’re particularly useful for differentiating instruction for students with learning issues like ADHD. Many students with learning disabilities develop compensatory skills — a student with dyslexia might be an exceptional auditory learner, for instance — and classroom tech makes it easy for these students to engage with materials through their preferred medium.
For example, SpeakIt is an easy-to-install extension for Google Chrome that can read any selection of text published on the internet aloud. This can be used to great effect as a way to expose an entire class to unfamiliar words and sentence structures, but it’s even more valuable as an aid for students who are struggling to read because of a learning disability or accessibility barrier.
It’s essential for teachers to have access to the resources they need to master these core competencies and, ultimately, empower their students to succeed. With a platform like Hoonuit, teachers can access over 1,500 professional development courses at any time, from anywhere. Our courses cover a wide range of topics that help teachers develop a set of critical competencies with which they can tackle the challenge of helping every student — regardless of background or ability — thrive.