Differentiating with Technology: Content

An incredible feature of teaching in a 1:1 classroom is the wealth of content and capability available at both teachers and students fingertips in the classroom.  Having access to so many resources and assessments beyond what is available in typical textbooks makes differentiating for students more straightforward than ever before.

What is differentiation?
Differentiated instruction is an approach to teaching in which educators actively plan for students' differences so that all students can best learn. 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 (ASCD).

Teachers typically think of differentiation in three different portions of their instruction: content, process, and product.  This blog post will begin a 3-article series regarding integrating technology as a resource to supporting differentiation.  

Why and how to differentiate content?
Though teachers are obligated to teach content knowledge as dictated by standards, there can still be significant flexibility of content.  For example, in a standard like the one below that asks students to solve fractions in real world scenarios, the teacher or student could certainly choose the specific real world scenario based on student interest.

5.NSF.2 Solve real-world problems involving addition and subtraction of fractions with unlike

Allowing students to work with fractions in a context that means something personally to them makes learning more engaging and likely to endure.  Is a student particularly interested in cooking and so manipulating fractions in the context of a recipe is engaging?  Or would a student rather work with fractions representing probabilities of winning a game?  In both cases, students meet the standard but providing options for the context encourages greater student engagement.  

As another example, consider the biology I standard below:

H.B.1A.4 Analyze and interpret data from informational texts and data collected from
investigations using a range of methods (such as tabulation, graphing, or statistical
analysis) to (1) reveal patterns and construct meaning, (2) support or refute hypotheses,
explanations, claims, or designs, or (3) evaluate the strength of conclusions.

Access to the internet allows teachers to quickly and easily provide multiple options of informational texts or data when planning the instructional activities for the skill of using data to reveal patterns and construct meanings as required of the standard.

Does this mean all the students are working on different things?

Providing options for content does not mean a teacher should provide one option per student.  It would be a challenge to curate and provide 26 individual informational texts for a lesson.  Using technology to access two or three options of informational text, however, is a reasonable adjustment for differentiation that students will benefit from.  

Teachers don’t have the burden of copying multiple text sets or even knowing how many they need of each article when technology is used to deploy content.  Moreover, content can be up to date and current and not dependent upon the published year of the textbook as with traditional sources of content.

Resources for finding vetted content
The following resources can be used to provide choice in content to students at various levels:

Browse our free collection of news articles, poems, short stories, and historical documents for grades 5-12.

BHP is like nothing else. But if you had to categorize it, you could say it’s a social studies course that runs on jet fuel. Co-created by teachers, students, curriculum experts, and a dedicated team of tech developers, BHP was inspired by the work of David Christian and is supported by Bill Gates. The fundamental goal is to provide a world class, ready-for-the-classroom resource available to everyone, everywhere. For free.

The Data Library contains lists of ongoing data-sharing projects as well as downloadable Excel spreadsheets along with other sources of data on the web.

Founded in 2003, Science News for Students is an award-winning online publication dedicated to providing age-appropriate, topical science news to learners, parents and educators. It’s part of the Science News Media Group, which has published its flagship magazine since 1922.

Delivering options to students in Google Classroom
Using the “topics” feature of Google Classroom allows teachers to tag assignments according to themes.  This tagging feature can be used to indicate to students how content is being differentiated.  Read more about organizing with the topics feature here.

In the process of actually assigning the work, teachers can choose which students receive assignments as well.  Read more about how to use this feature here.

Looking forward

In our next post, we will tackle the process portion of differentiation and provide recommendations for how teachers may allow students to work at their readiness level and learning preferences.


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