Differentiation, the sound of that word sends shivers down many secondary teachers spine. In kindergarten there are wide gaps but it is only a maximum of about 4 years difference between your lowest and your ‘average student’. Do not get me wrong I have a lot of respect for Kindergarten teachers (there is no way I could spend my day with 28, four and five year olds) but by the time they are in Grade 10 I can have a student functioning at university level down to a student who would struggle to function academically in a Grade 3. To differentiate effectively, in a way that produces real results for all students is time consuming.
Differentiation is hard. Not because the task is difficult, but by the time I have modified my lesson for; the student who missed 5 years of school due to illness, the autistic children, my 3 ADHD students, the student with auditory processing issues, the dyslexic student, the students with only 2 years of English, the gifted student and the 5 students who just take a bit longer to learn… the lesson is three weeks past. At best we have the ‘normal’ lesson for the ‘average student’ and some sort of pre-planned scaffolding for anybody who appears to be struggling. Collaborative learning and peer tutoring can help but are not always the solution.
OneNote makes differentiation easier. I know if I spend time setting up differentiated tasks they will be here for next year. At my school all teachers in the same department have access to a shared ‘textbook’. If I was to have four staff teach a year level and each teacher took one level of scaffolding of differentiation, then I will have 4 levels of differentiation for the time it takes me to create one lesson. Over two years that is up to 8 differentiated lessons for the same learning outcome! The collaborative nature of a shared OneNote is amazing for just these type of tasks.
The text to speech function is part of windows and can easily integrate with OneNote. It is fantastic for those student who can not (or will not) read. This helps them access the same information that other students are getting without ‘dumbing it down’. I will also encourage my other students to use this feature as then they are getting the information by using two senses instead of one.
Speech to text is also part of windows and is good for the students who will not put things down on paper but will readily talk about it. It is not great with accents but, with a little practice, is a great way to get started. I find this especially good for many of my autistic students as I get deeper understandings written down. Some students will also be happy just to record themselves answering the questions. A separate microphone is a good idea for this but the built in ones work rather well considering.
Another differentiation tool I use a lot is the record audio and record video functions. This enables me to add extra information without cluttering up the page with more writing. Great for breaking up a question or task and if you pare it up with a video or selection of photographs it can help clarify a procedural text.
I can also add links for students who want more information at a help or extension level. Things such as URL’s, YouTube clips and other pages referring back to previously learned work can help the student to, independently, get more help or extend themselves.
Differentiations takes time but using OneNote I find that the time to benefit ratio is a lot more acceptable. We all want what is best for our students but many of us are not willing to give our lives over to the profession. Try one task on OneNote and you will find that differentiation will be a easier, for now and for later.