The ideas presented in these two chapters provided a very practical step-by-step guiding approach on how to deliver differentiated learning and design/choose appropriate assessment tools. Chapter seven also provided a deeper meaning to understanding the motivation behind a lot of the ideas presented earlier on in the text. More specifically, it addressed why the greater focus is placed on teaching students with special needs. Cooper highlights that delivering a “one size fits all” instructional design is no longer inline with the realities faced in today’s classrooms (pg.136). Classrooms are becoming increasingly diverse as they now encompass students working at, above, and below grade level, which further stresses the need for differentiated learning.
While I was in agreement with Cooper that the goal of a learning environment “is to have students develop understanding, proficiency, skills, and independence” (pg. 145), I was initially at odds with the idea of “modifying” the learning targets for a specific student or a group of students. I felt that by assigning them tasks from a lower grade level while their peers—within the same classroom—continued to work on higher level tasks might negatively impact their self-confidence and hence their academic performance. I think my initial strategy when faced with this situation would be to provide these students with a platform that allows them to display their special abilities in other areas in front of their peers in an effort to empower them with self-confidence.
In my current class, my Associate Teacher provided one of the students who has a behavioural exceptionality the opportunity to showcase her creative talents by offering her class-time to deliver her own art lesson. I watched in muted amazement as she firmly negotiated her “allowed” time to deliver this lesson and the eagerness that followed as she walked around the classroom guiding and answering her peers. The confidence level that was instilled in her following this task definitely impacted her performance throughout the day. From my simple observation, she seemed to be more focused on her work and almost instantly absorbed in the leadership role. Linking this experience and that of a similar outcome presented in Sean’s Case Study in chapter four, I envision myself taking on a proactive planning approach that offers differentiated learning with a special emphasis on confidence building.
Rubrics: To be honest, I’m still not a big fan of rubrics, more so from a student’s perspective. In her article, Teaching with Rubrics, Andrade states that “Instructional rubrics help my students understand the goal of an assignment and focus their efforts.” This “focus” is the main reason I don’t like detailed rubrics. They limit my freedom upon approaching and exploring an assignment in a relaxed manner. I feel that if the “goals” of the assignment were clearly stated and openly discussed in class, then rubrics should just serve as a simple reminder instead of causing, in my case, anxiety of whether or not I presented “this point” well enough. From a teacher’s perspective, I’m sure I will get the hang of them soon enough and that they just seem overwhelming because it’s pretty much an introduction to a new major concept. I did however appreciate that Cooper provided a starting point for their design as I recently faced this problem during the creation of my first rubric in another class. I had no idea which performance level to use as my guiding point and found Cooper’s suggestion of starting at the Proficient performance level to be very helpful.