Using Technology to Differentiate Instruction and Inspire Student Learning

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standard 1

1. Facilitate and inspire student learning and creativityTeachers use their knowledge of subject matter, teaching and learning, and technology to facilitate experiences that advance student learning, creativity, and innovation in both face-to-face and virtual environments.

Program Standard 3

3. Differentiation – The teacher acquires and uses specific knowledge about students’ cultural, individual intellectual and social development and uses that knowledge to adjust their practice by employing strategies that advance student learning. 

3.3 Element – Demonstrating flexibility and responsiveness in persisting to support students.

3.3 Example of Proficient – Teacher persists in seeking approaches for students who have difficulty learning, drawing on a broad repertoire of strategies.

Tailored instruction has long been thought to yield the highest level of comprehension when learning a new skill. It is logical then that legislatures and administrators would push to implement that principle in schools. Differentiation is now considered an essential tool for educators to learn and more teachers are encouraged to adopt this technique every year. Instructors well versed in differentiation provide students a variety of approaches in which to explore a single concept. This practice allows students to take into consideration their personal learning style when mastering subject matter or even practice the same skill several ways for a deeper understanding. It also allows students choices in their education which can imbue students with a sense of agency and incite engagement in their studies. Effective educators use many methods to achieve differentiation in their classrooms and often technology can be a valuable tool in achieving that goal.

For the class EDTC 6433 (Teaching with Technology) we were asked to explore how the first ISTE standard can be applied to our own teaching goals and experiences. This standard asks how technology can “facilitate and inspire student learning and creativity” so I researched how it could be used to provide students with a more tailored education. My theory on the subject is that if students are allowed to use technology to progress at their own rate and receive individualized ways to practice certain concepts they will reach a higher level of mastery in those skills. Investigating this project uncovered a wide range of resources available to teachers including software programs, websites, and apps to name a few. In order to narrow down my examination I focused solely on the use of educational apps. During my research I discovered an article that provided a framework for strengthening children’s literacy skills through the use of apps. Northrop and Killeen (2013) asserted that the use of apps to scaffold instruction can be very effective when coupled with explicit instruction, however, they warn teachers that this technology should not be seen as a substitute for meaningful lessons (p. 533). One issue they noted was the game-like structure of the literacy apps they tested and how that might cause issues with long-term retention of the skills presented. Northrop and Killeen (2013) stated, “we noticed that the child would race through the app, clicking to get the correct answer, not paying attention to decoding and reading the words” (p. 535). Despite this setback they recommended the use of literacy apps in classrooms and suggested that with proper instruction and monitoring that this kind of technology can be a useful instructional aid.

Another student in EDTC 6433 found a similar article that dealt with the use of apps to build on students’ math skills. The article chronicled a study conducted on a group of fourth grade students and demonstrated how the use of math apps improved their comprehension of the subject matter. The researchers in this study also found that the apps worked best when used to scaffold learning already achieved through explicit teacher instruction. The researchers in this article indicated that the best apps to improve student achievement allow students to progress at their own pace and provide expedient feedback (Zhang, M., Trussell, R.P., Gallegos, B., & Asam, R.R., 2015, p. 33). These two features enable students to focus on the particular skills they struggle with and provide teachers with valuable information that they can use to differentiate instruction. These authors also touch on the idea that it is important for educators to use apps to supplement instruction and not rely on them to actually teach students new skills.

Overall, the use of technology as an instructional aide can greatly benefit both teachers and students. When used effectively it can provide students with differentiated instruction by allowing them to work at their own pace and to work on the skills they struggle with the most. However, it is crucial that teachers take great care to implement technology in a thoughtful and intentional way by providing explicit instruction and guidance on how it should be used. Mary Ann Wolf of the State Educational Technology Directors Association emphasized, “Strong leadership is needed to encourage the correct use of technology, provide support throughout, and systematically integrate the use of technology for instruction. Integrating technology is much, much more than putting a piece of software into a classroom” (Robin, 2015, p. 221). Once teachers become proficient at managing technology use in their classroom, it will advance student learning and incite engagement in the content presented.

As a future educator, I am dedicated to advancing student learning by using a wide variety of techniques. Technology will definitely have a prominent place in my classroom and I will use it to engage student learning and provide them with the differentiated instruction that they need. All of the articles cited provide useful information about the benefits and the difficulties of using technology in the classroom. In order to implement technology in a meaningful way I will have to carefully plan out how to integrate it into lesson plans in a seamless and impactful manner. This will mean that any piece of technology that enters my curriculum will have to be well vetted to determine if its use will actually benefit the learning process. The two articles dealing with the use of apps in the classroom discuss the fact that the wide range of apps on the market means that some are much better developed than others. Some apps focus on a very narrow skill set and some cover a wide range of material. Furthermore, some apps provide useful feedback on student progress that educators can use to scaffold learning and some provide no feedback at all. These issues will mean that adding technology to my classroom will be an extensive process but the resulting benefits to my students will be well worth the effort.

Northrop, L. E., & Killeen, E. (2013). A Framework for Using iPads to Build Early Literacy Skills. Reading Teacher, 66(7), 531-537. doi: 10.1002/TRTR.1155
Robin, B.R. (2008). Digital Storytelling: A Powerful Technology Tool for the 21st Century Classroom. Theory Into Practice. 47(3), 220-228. doi: 10.1080/00405840802153916
Zhang, M., Trussell, R., Gallegos, B., & Asam, R. (2015). Using Math Apps for Improving Student Learning: An Exploratory Study in an Inclusive Fourth Grade Classroom. Techtrends:Linking Research & Practice To Improve Learning, 59(2), 32-39. doi: 10.1007/s11528-015-0837-y