We need to differentiate instruction. Derived from the word “different,” differentiation points to the fact that different ways of teaching can help you reach more children with the knowledge they need to master something. You’ve heard good teachers say it this way when a child is struggling: “Well, let’s try this a different way.”
But with technology, I think we’re forgetting that sometimes assessment can be a form of instruction that is delivered differently. We have ways to teach through assessment, whether or not we take a grade.
Differentiating instruction doesn’t always depend on the face-to-face instructor. We can also merge it with assessment tools in powerful ways that help kids learn on the spot. Remember that you don’t have to take a grade on every assessment. You can assess students as they learn by using formative assessment, which is often a valuable addition to summative assessment that takes place at the conclusion of a unit.
1. Harnessing Artificial Intelligence on Writing
We all know what it’s like to get back that paper we struggled to write and find it covered with comments written in red ink. The red-ink method of assessment has two flaws.
First, when you mark a mistake, marks don’t explain to the writer why it is incorrect. As a teacher, I won’t grade a written document if it hasn’t been spell checked. Many people are notoriously inconsistent about checking grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Additionally, when teachers just mark an error, students may not understand how to correct it and will continue making the same mistake. They need to know why a particular sentence needs a comma in a particular place.
Tools like Grammarly, Pro Writing Aid, and the Hemingway App are veritable Swiss army knives to improve written language. In addition to suggested changes, writers can see with a click of a button why something is incorrect and learn from mistakes. As a blogger, I can attest that these tools have improved grammar mistakes that my high school English teacher honestly tried to remove. I guess I never really understood why they were mistakes.
The problem with artificial intelligence is that it only works for humans who acknowledge they need help. For example, my dyslexic son or spelling-challenged husband know that they need help, and they write better for it. While these AI tools should be easily accessible to improve our own work, we should also be using them as a new way to stop mistakes at the source by teaching students about grammar, punctuation, and spelling. In the future, perhaps videos and other tools will partner with AI writing tools to further improve differentiating instruction for writers.
2. Verbal Feedback on Written Work
The second problem with those red-ink corrections is that struggling writers are often struggling readers. These writers are further disadvantaged because the written word has none of the face-and-voice body language that is an essential part of communication. Teacher feedback on content or writing is best delivered verbally in-person or via digital voice/video. Tools like the Read/Write Toolbar from Texthelp or Kaizena let teachers quickly leave voice comments on documents so that students hear feedback as they work. Voice feedback has additional benefits: It’s often much faster for the teacher than handwritten comments, and it can be instantly delivered if you’re using a tool that links with Google Docs. This means that while a teacher might be assessing a paper, he or she can also be differentiating instruction.
3. Providing Opportunities for Rework
However, this mode of adding instruction to assessment only works if students are engaged with the assessment-embedded instruction. This is why I require my students to rework papers and documents where I’ve given verbal instructions.
4. Instant Feedback on Answers
If a teacher has to use fill-in-the-blank or multiple-choice assessments, there is no reason to make students wait to find out if their answers are correct. Fast, accurate feedback is a hallmark of great teaching. Again, we can use an AI tool to speed up grading and feedback with apps like GradeCam and QuickKey, which scan assessments and show students corrections immediately. Instant feedback helps kids learn and remember while content is fresh in their minds. They are being reminded and instructed in a different, immediate way that will help them remember in the future.
5. Embedding Learning, Feedback, and Assessment Into Instruction
Whether a teacher is using video or in-class instruction, the established method of teaching for 30 minutes and stopping for a quiz doesn’t fit with how this generation learns. Rather than wasting valuable instruction time with a handwritten quiz, tools like Edpuzzle will pause videos and ask questions inside the video. Multiple-choice can be graded instantly while still leaving time to ask discussion questions. (You can turn off fast forwarding to ensure that students are getting video content in their viewing time.) Tools like Nearpod and PearDeck allow teachers to embed questions in the instruction. Teachers can instantly bring up a question that requires students to draw a picture. For example, when I was teaching form-factors of computers, I had students draw an example so that we could discuss and reinforce their learning. Students benefit from opportunities to draw and type their answers.
6. Facilitating Inclusive Student Conversations
Using Flipgrid, students can carry on conversations via video, offering another option for student participation by allowing them to have interactions that teachers can easily monitor and responded to. Students are learning differently because they are hearing their classmates respond, and outside guests such as book authors or other resources can participate with a quick answer. Instead of having students pair up for in-class work (where the teacher can’t monitor whether they’re sharing correct information), Flipgrid can involve the whole class or a subset of the class as you discuss and learn things differently.
7. Merging the Real and Online Worlds in Powerful Learning
Using a tool like Metaverse, teachers and students can merge the real world and the virtual world. For example, a teacher can add a QR code (a digital barcode) to questions. When students are struggling, they can scan the barcode. A virtual “helper” will appear on the students’ device to ask questions, show relevant videos or websites, or guide students through other resources to help them understand the content. While this can seem like artificial intelligence, students or teachers must program or create the augmented reality characters. This past year, I had my eighth- and ninth-graders programming in Metaverse. I’ve also seen elementary kids use the tool.
However, some tools like the Merge Cube come with built-in apps that can help kids learn. For example, hold the Merge Cube in your hand and launch Galactic Explorer. You’ll now have a complete solar system to explore. There’s also AnatomyAR+, an app about the human body, and many others that students can manipulate in virtual reality or by looking through their phone screen in augmented reality.
As teachers, differentiating instruction with today’s technology is often a melding of instruction, assessment, and feedback. We can reach more students as we design instruction to more rapidly reach all of our learners and provide feedback in ways that help students learn.