Teenagers + technology = success. Sounds appealing to the techies among us, but we’ve learned its not that easy. Yet it is an assumption that many of us make, a trap that can easily snare the technophile educator. In our excitement for technology and cutting edge, we may forget that, even in the realm of technology, diverse learning styles and competencies exist.
I enjoy exploring new technology. If I cannot figure out how to do something, I am much more likely to wade through a new technology in search of the answer than immediately ask Google. For me this is not just about learning a new technology … it is also, well, fun. As a high school student, my teachers would offer painful step-by-step lessons on how to complete different tasks in Clarisworks or Netscape. There was, to my frustration, no shortage of wrath for students moving ahead too quickly. A premature click on “ok” was akin to putting us on the brink of World War III, a la Matthew Broderick in War Games. Fast forward to classrooms today and there are many students feel the exact same way. Yet there remain students who feel overwhelmed by this type of exploration and prefer a more methodical approach. Even for today’s “digital natives”, many appreciate the step-by-step instruction.
I am hardly suggesting we avoid technology in the classroom, but just reminding us (including myself!) that differentiation exists within technology just as it does in math or history. Nor am I suggesting that we never make students try different ways of learning technology, even if it is outside of their learning “comfort zone”. However, the more latitude we give for different learning styles, the more likely students will embrace technology and master the skills they need. Students are not “digital natives” – they are learners.
When I worked with high school students on their business plans one of the hardest concepts for them to understand was ‘target markets.’ Invariably, a student would choose an extremely broad market like ‘upper and middle class men under 35’ or even ‘the whole world.’ I told them they might have a very small marketing budget, imagine only $25 per month. Where could you advertise, within your budget that reached the highest percentage of likely customers? They would not have money to waste reaching people who were not potential customers. For example, what percentage of people that read the local newspaper is going to purchase your custom urban t-shirt designs? Would the readers of the local gazette find value in your product? They slowly began to realize that they really had to know their target market, down to the detail, in order to reach them.
This type of planning is exactly what good teachers do when lesson planning. I often come up with a great lesson plan and neglect to consider what type of student benefits most from that type of instruction; this is a huge, but common mistake. I am sure every teacher has made this mistake least once, in fact, many I worked with made it every day. I do not think that makes me (or them) bad teachers, but it does represent an area for improvement. The main problem with not considering what type of student our instruction is that we cannot support the student who is not inherently wired to the type of instruction for that day.
This question inherently leads into differentiation. This is an example of the teacher’s job being much more difficult than the entrepreneur’s is. In fact, differentiation really turns a teacher into an uberentrepreneur. The entrepreneur must focus on one target market; the teacher should focus on many different types of learners. In an ideal world, we differentiate our lessons every day for every learner. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that teachers who do this everyday, for every lesson are the rare gems of the educational world and not the norm. For the rest of us, on those days where we choose not to differentiate on all levels, I think simply taking the time (before instruction) to recognize what type of learner would benefit the most from a certain day’s lesson it can help a tremendous amount.
I would even argue for adding a new field to your personal lesson plan template: targeted learner. This way we could have a record of which classification is receiving the most value added from each lesson. A quick way to do this would be to use intelligence divisions (analytical, practical, and creative). This would allow us to look back through our lesson plans and note good (or bad) trends. We may see that our last five lessons suited only analytical and creative thinkers. A teacher then may be prompted to add in a lesson targeted to practical thinkers. Also, by consciously thinking about who benefits most from a lesson beforehand, we can provide additional support to students who struggle with that type of instruction.
As a last aside, this blog entry only really discusses the lesson plan, but I think to be truly effective with identifying your target students, you really need to consider (separately) assessments as well.