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Creative Instruction for Empowerment and Success in the Classroom
How to Individualize Instruction for Overcrowded Classes
One of the greatest challenges for regular education teachers is how to differentiate instruction so that each student feels as though s/he is receiving individualized attention, while also meeting standards for quality education.
Many teachers are feeling discouraged in the education environment, leading to a mass exodus from teaching careers. Teachers who are able to are retiring early; some who are experienced but are not eligible for retirement are seeking other professional opportunities, and the numbers of students enrolling in education courses at the university levels are diminishing. One major challenge is preparing students for academic success with few resources and almost no support. Mix in with these circumstances a classroom of 35 to 45 students of varying learning abilities, and the obstacles can seem insurmountable.
There are ways that instruction can be differentiated so that the majority of students can feel individually empowered to succeed, and that don't take more than a planning period to put together. Sound impossible? It took me several years of teaching to learn from the best. And I found one of the best helps ever: A book called Comprehension Connections by Tanny McGregor.
Using Concrete Examples to Illustrate Abstract Concepts
I teaching 10th grade World History, as well as German. I also teach writing courses at the university level. Many of the strategies I use were initially developed for elementary aged students; however, they have been modified to meet the needs of both high school and adult learners.
Some strategies You Can Use:
1) Understanding Prior Knowledge. Tanny McGregor uses a lint roller as a way for students to interact with schema. Choose two places: The first is a place the students are mainly familiar with; the second is one that only you are familiar with. Make a T-Chart on the board and see how many descriptors students can come up with for each place. The one that only you know should draw a variety of blanks and responses like "What's that?"
All of us are unique because we all have different experiences. Have students write things that they have experienced: favorite foods, places, pieces of music, influential people, books, quotes, etc. Then, roll the lint roller over those sheets of paper. Our brain, like the lint roller, holds onto everything and makes up our understanding of the world, and subsequently, the materials we use to teach about the world. What happens if you have no prior knowledge for the information you're given? How can you use other experiences to fill in the blanks?
2) Developing Inferences: Tanny McGregor uses a beat up old pair of slippers as her example. For my classes, I use a beat up old winter coat that I've worn to change the oil in my car; cats have made nests in it; I've cleaned out the attic space wearing this jacket. I fill the pocket with all kinds of things, including a beat up copy of A Wrinkle in Time, an old set of keys, a wallet with zero clues for ID in it; hair ties, stuffed animals, and a baby sock. You can use a trash bag; you can use whatever you like with whatever objects you want. I then ask my students what they can tell me about the person who owns the jacket based on the objects that they find in it. Again, making a T-Chart on the board, you can have students give their statements, and also list the pieces of evidence they used to develop their conclusions.
Tying information to Content/Standards
In a History class, there is very little background information my students have on a variety of nations and the events that shaped them. But these activities can be applied to greater discussions as pre-reading strategies and post-reading strategies.
Example: Clashes between World Religions during the Age of Exploration: How does European Catholicism during the time of influence the ways in which Explorers interacted with other people with other religious cultures? (These are really abstract concepts. How can using concrete examples help to guide students through reading and writing practices to help them answer this question?) Use your own prior knowledge to develop inferences based on the evidence we have on this time frame and era. The more hands-on activities, you use, the better off your students will be with analysis and developing opportunities to read and write with purpose.
As educators, parents, mentors, etc., we all struggle to find way to ensure our children are engaged with educational information in a way that reaches them personally. We tend to forget that our greatest asset is our own creativity and the connections we have to our own students. Find ways to modify instruction to include abstract activities as much as possible. Reading to obtain information is a challenge for many of our students, and we don't need to be discouraged by potential shortcomings. Rather, use them as an opportunity to generate your own excitement with the lessons. See what your students come up with. Encourage them to explore their own conclusions. Use concrete connections! They are amazing and will change the way you interact with educational materials.