Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Integrating Understanding by Design and Differentiated Instruction: focusing on the teaching

One of the most important things teacher can do is decide WHAT to teach - what it is essential for our students to know.  Yet learning goes much further than the simple retention or recall of information, true learning consists of organizing and using the ideas and skills embodied in the learning.  Because of this HOW to teach - the instruction - is also an important focus for teachers.  Tomlinson and McTighe state:
Attending to quality of curriculum while de-emphasizing  instruction may provide great mental stimulation for teachers, but is unlikely to do the same for the young people we serve.  On the other hand, attention to the quality of instruction without an equal emphasis on curriculum may provide novelty or entertainment for students, but it will almost certainly not result in durable and potent learning outcomes.
They go on to identify the attributes of good teachers, some of which I summarise below :

  • They establish clarity about curricular essentials:  it's not possible to teach everything, so it's important to prioritize what is most useful and durable.  At the same time it's important to differentiate.  Giving struggling learners less to do is not helping them master the content or skills, giving advanced learners more of what they already understand doesn't help them either.  Curriculum based on enduring understandings, however, will give multiple entry points for the students, many different options for exploring or inquiry, and many different ways for students to show their learning and understanding.
  • They accept responsibility for learner success and understand that if a student has not learned something this could be because the teacher has not taught it well enough - if a student is not making progress than the teacher is not teaching or reaching that student.  Great teachers know there are alternative ways of teaching and learning and that they need to find out which ones work for each of their students.
  • They develop communities of respect by valuing the multiple perspectives of their students and help students to take responsibility for their own successes.
  • They use many different ways of teaching - as Tomlinson and McTighe point out a dining room that serves only one or two items quickly becomes monotonous - different instructional strategies are more engaging for learners.
Photo Credit:  Listen and Love by Denise Carbonell

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