I had a question in Aalborg today that got me thinking:
"How does the iPad help differentiation in the classroom?"
Differentiation: the art of good teaching and, I'm sure, at some point, every teachers nightmare question. Each child has different levels of ability and we need to cater for them all.
So often we divide children into groups to make this manageable, we don't call them 'the able group' and 'the average group' and 'the not-very-able-at-all group' so for years our classes have had 'the red group' and 'the green group' and 'the blue group'.
This is of necessity. We have to differentiate to challenge our students but we have to do it in a way that is manageable.
One problem with this method is that often we differentiate not only by the time we give each varying group, or the amount of teacher input but also by task. So the red group do worksheet 1 (the really challenging problems), the blue group do worksheet 2 (the more straightforward problems) and the green group, well, they complete the much more straightforward task.
In my experience this can have a major flaw in that it has often been difficult to combat the feeling amongst the less-able 'green group' of students that they are inferior. They see other members of the class working on outcomes that they know they could not manage themselves and they know that their ore able friends also see the work that they are asked to do and know how 'easy' it is.
And so we struggle to engage and motivate what can often be a significant number of students.
So does the iPad have any impact in this area?
The first thing to say is that the iPad is by its very nature a personal device - designed to wrap itself around the individual who owns and uses it. This is a key consideration for schools who view it as many other pieces of technology in the classroom and try to deploy 'trolleys' of iPads in classes where many students may use the device - this was not how it was intended to be used and brings inevitable difficult questions of privacy, content sharing and also removes the powerful motivational feeling of 'ownership' that a student in a 1:1 environment has.
For those students, however able, if they are using a personal iPad in learning it has a powerful motivating effect on the engagement of students. We have seen the enthusiasm with which tasks are approached and tackled on this device and that level of engagement has, more or less, remained in the (almost) three years we have been using the iPad.
In an iPad task the teacher can differentiate the tasks and have children working on separate and appropriate tasks and if they are iPad based it means all students are working on the iPad - this seems to go some way to combating the negative effects of previous models.
Also, and I think most importantly in answering this question, a number of iPad based outcomes allow the students to be working on the same outcome but allow for differentiation by expectation.
Creating a book is a prime example.
Apps such as BookCreator, a must have for any iPad teacher, allow the students to create stunning digital books that can be shared and exported easily to iBooks or further afield. Crucially, these books allow the student to add text, images, audio and video to their pages thus opening a tremendous opportunity for differentiating by expectation but NOT by outcome:
All students are creating a book on the Rainforest as part of a science topic, for example. The more able may be required to add more pages, more text or more complex contents and bibliography pages whilst less able students may use more audio than typed text, or create slightly less pages.
What I have noticed in class is that the fact of working toward the same outcome, on the same task, has the effect of removing much of the 'stigma' that can often surround the less able students due to peer perception of the ease of the tasks they are given.
I am not by any means saying the the iPad solves the issue of differentiation in the classroom but it is another feather in its already 'feathery' cap that it also has an impact in this area.
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