K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education


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  • Deaf learners and successful cognitive achievement: This article surveys relevant literature on the cognitive potential of deaf learners and asserts that, under appropriate conditions, support, and instruction, deaf students can succeed in inclusive settings. Includes a list of ideal instructional conditions for deaf students in the inclusive classroom.
  • Two paths to knowledge: For students who who always finish their class work early or want more information than you have time to give, try curriculum compacting.
  • Using knowledge of student cognition to differentiate instruction: This article explains the concept of working memory, identifies different kinds of learning problems, and discusses ways to differentiate instruction for students with learning difficulties and disabilities who have attention and working memory problems. Includes twenty research-based, user-friendly teaching strategies that are proven effective for teaching all students.

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Differentiation is the practice of tailoring instruction to diverse learners based on student readiness, interest, and learning styles. Differentiation is often discussed in terms of assisting students with exceptionalities, such as learning disabilities, gifts and talents, and emotional disorders.

Before differentiating, the teacher evaluates students for learning styles, aptitudes, and interests. Learning styles can be evaluated by instruments such as the Myers-Briggs indicator and Kersley’s Temperament Sorter, while aptitudes can be highlighted by using Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. Assessment tests can identify specific learning disabilities.

Once a teacher understands the needs of each of her students, there are myriad ways for differentiating instruction across the four areas of process, content, product, and environment:

The combination of activities and input from the teacher that engage the learner in the content. One approach to differentiating by process is tiering instruction, which adjusts the process across the different levels of learning taking place in the classroom. Using tiering allows the teacher to address the same content with students at different stages of learning. Additionally, teachers can use group work and peering systems to have higher achieving students help students who have difficulties.
The information that must be learned. Content itself can be differentiated by allowing students to work on their own interests and making work relevant to their future career choices. Teachers can also differentiate content when teaching literacy skills by choosing texts that are appropriate and engaging to students’ interests.
The outcomes of student learning that demonstrate understanding or mastery. Alternative assessments are examples of differentiating product; teachers may require portfolios or demonstrations rather than standard tests to evaluate student learning.
The physical climate and set-up of the classroom. Differentiation can occur when teachers adjust the environment to accommodate students with special learning needs, such as arranging the classroom to assist a deaf student. Teachers may also decide to arrange desks in particular patterns to encourage peer work or seat students due to their attention needs.

The LEARN NC website includes a number of resources on differentiating instruction.