While differentiated instruction (DI) isn’t a new concept in the K-12 education space, it has remained an important one in supporting student engagement and success. Though DI is a pedagogical best practice, it can be challenging to implement day-to-day. This blog outlines why differentiated instruction is important and how educators can leverage digital portfolios to make implementing DI easier and more effective.
What Is Differentiated Instruction and Why Is It Important?
Differentiation isn't just a trendy term; it's the foundation of effective teaching and a crucial practice in every classroom. We’ve moved away from the idea of a uniform education for all. Today, educators are dedicated to tailoring their instruction to meet the unique needs of each individual student. This approach benefits students by allowing their teachers to better understand student differences, learning strengths and interests, and encouraging them to work within their current skill level and push their boundaries just enough. For teachers, this translates to increased student engagement – students are neither bored nor overwhelmed beyond their readiness level.
Certainly, grasping the distinctive learner profile of each student is a significant challenge, especially when considering the continuous development and changes that occur throughout the school year. This is where digital portfolios can simplify a teacher's approach. They make the daunting process of identifying each student's learning preference and monitoring their progress throughout the school year easy, organized, and rewarding.
How Do Digital Portfolios Support Differentiated Instruction?
Digital portfolios and DI are a natural fit. With digital portfolios student learning becomes visible with evidence of each student's progress captured on an ongoing basis throughout the school year. The portfolio is home to samples of their work, as well as multimedia evidence and reflections, such as photographs, videos, and audio recordings, all of which serve to bolster and facilitate the teaching, learning, and assessment process. Additionally, with the use of a smartphone or tablet, educators (and students) can add to the portfolio in the moment, eliminating the need to add something else to the ‘to-do’ list after school hours. It’s quick, easy, and transformative.
Build Meaningful Connections With Students
The larger the class size, the harder it becomes to have a deep understanding of your students. With the ongoing increase in class sizes, this task can seem nearly insurmountable! Digital portfolios enable you to easily collect and organize all the essential information about your students for quick access. At the start of the school year, you can store all the necessary details to help build meaningful connections with your students. As the year unfolds, you can easily add to these details, see student readiness and growth, and track their progress.
Consider this scenario: during the initial week of school, students fill out a questionnaire that provides insights into their interests, preferences, strengths, and areas they’d like to improve. The teacher or student uploads this information into the portfolio, making it easy to reference when building relationships in the early days of school. As the year progresses, the teacher and student can continue to enrich the portfolio with writing samples, audio recordings of speeches, videos of presentations, and countless other materials that document each student’s development over time. This digital student portfolio allows the teacher to access the most recent entries anytime, anywhere, helping them with formative assessment and identifying and programming for the student's next steps in their learning journey.
Cater to Individual Student Needs
It's fantastic to have easy access to student work samples, but what about those times when you just need a quick update on each student's current status in a specific area to plan for differentiated instruction? Digital portfolios that include an assessment tool, like SpacesEDU, can simplify this process. Each portfolio can be linked to the program's learning objectives. So, when a student submits an artifact, the teacher can promptly tag it with the relevant learning goal and provide a proficiency rating. When the teacher reviews the overall proficiency report, they receive a quick overview of each student's current progress in their learning journey.
Consider this scenario: a teacher wants to arrange a small group session to provide additional practice for students struggling with a particular math concept. By consulting a proficiency report linked to student portfolio artifacts, they can readily identify which students would benefit the most from this focused review session and ensure that they are included.
Create personalized learning paths with digital portfolios
A differentiated classroom is one in which not all students are assigned the same task or method of completing a task simultaneously. Instead, the teacher utilizes the data collected through digital portfolios to assign tasks that match each individual learner's current level of ability and challenge them accordingly. Digital portfolios simplify the process of delivering personalized instruction to each student, ensuring a seamless and tailored learning experience.
Consider this scenario: the class is analyzing character development within the novel they're reading. To facilitate this, the teacher has chosen several passages from the text for students to examine in small groups. These passages come with varying levels of complexity. To efficiently manage this, the teacher can create distinct learning pathways (or Spaces) for each group. This simplifies the process of assigning students to specific groups and providing them with the appropriate passage for their analysis.
Tailoring instruction to meet the diverse needs of all students is much simpler through the use of digital student portfolios. Educators are empowered to create personalized learning experiences, ensuring that each student receives the support and challenges they require to thrive academically.