Empowering students, also called differentiated learning, is not the same as abdicating control of your classroom. At least that's how the ASCD’s Journal of Educational Leadership defines it. The journal notes student empowerment as “student ownership of learning.”
Differentiated learning has been around for at least two decades for gifted and talented students. However, it is now recognized to be an important tool for engaging and addressing the individual needs of all students. Still, some teachers say it isn’t possible to juggle so many different student needs with limited resources coupled with mounting performance standards.
For those that are ready to give it a shot, TeachHub.com suggests the following classroom integration ideas.
1. Give students the opportunity to choose how they will complete their homework. If you usually provide written book reports, allow students to write a traditional report, film a book review, or create a comic-book-style summary of the major events. You can’t do it for every assignment, but why not try it occasionally?
2. Make up an essay test with three different questions and let students choose which one to answer. Or create a test with 20 short answer questions and ask them to pick 10. Some teachers even let their students choose between a long multiple-choice test, a short multiple-choice test plus a brief essay, or a long essay-only test.
3. Have students participate in daily self-evaluation by asking the following questions:
- What did I learn today?
- What do I still have questions about?
- Could I use this knowledge to take a test, complete an assignment, or accomplish something in my life?
4. Ask students what they want to get out of your course or this school year. Students may be uncomfortable – they are used to being told what to do – but if you push past their joking to get real answers, you might discover that some students genuinely want to learn, and even those without a passion for your subject may be motivated by goals like raising their GPA or getting into college.
5. The fastest way to empower students is to make their work matter in the real world. Try service learning or project-based learning. By creating an environment where their effort will impact other people, you can help students recognize the tremendous power they can have, even while they are still students.
Giving more control and power to students can seem daunting but in the end we want them to be engaged, interested, and take responsibility for their own learning. Empowering students may be one way to reach that goal.
We'd love to have you weigh in on the subject. Will differentiated learning really empower students or just stress teachers out?