Using Assessment to Differentiate Instruction
With varied methods of assessment occurring throughout a project, teachers are better informed about the learning progress of individual learners. Different assessment methods are more likely to reveal unique strengths and weaknesses of individuals. Similarly, when given a variety of tools and opportunities to express their learning, learners are better able to demonstrate and articulate their own abilities and learning needs. Open-ended assessments allow learners to respond at their own levels. Self-assessments that focus on metacognitive thinking are inherently useful in distinguishing learning needs, because learners approach them from their own ability levels. As teachers develop skill in recognizing the unique needs of individual learners through assessment data, they are more likely to design and adjust teaching and learning that is responsive and appropriate.
Differentiation for Learners with Severe Learning Disabilities
Learners with severe disabilities may or may not need to master specific content but instead may use the time in class to apply general thinking skills, develop socialization strategies, and practice reading, writing, and maths applications as they apply to the particular class. These learners are generally included in the regular classroom for part or all of the day and are sometimes assigned a paraprofessional to assist them. Often, these learners have designated pull-out instruction time for maths, language arts, or life skills depending on the special education model implemented by the school. Teachers are not as likely to have to adapt teaching and learning to learners at this level.
Learners with severe learning disabilities generally receive extensive assessment as part of the special education program. The assessment information is usually available to the classroom teacher. The child’s special education teacher is also a critical resource in differentiating instruction.
In most cases, learners with severe learning disabilities need to be assessed on skills and knowledge at which most learners have already become proficient. For this reason, they may have assessments that differ in some ways from those of the rest of the learners. For example, a rubric for a senior phase group project on creating a newspaper based on a historical event might include a trait on basic computer use or social skills for learners with severe learning disabilities that will not be assessed for most learners. On the other hand, the rubric might not include the same content knowledge or higher-order thinking expected of other learners.
Perhaps, the greatest disservice done to learners at this level is to deny them opportunities to develop thinking skills. Assessment is extremely important in this area so that these learners can receive instruction that challenges but does not overwhelm them. For example, observational anecdotes of a group classification activity could look similar to the following:
|Name: Jane (learner with severe disabilities)
|Categorized items quickly based on colour.
||Spent some time thinking and looking carefully at the items before beginning to categorize.
||Asked himself questions about use and appearance as he worked. Rearranged categories frequently until he settled on one he liked.
From the notes, a teacher could determine some steps to take with Jane that will improve her ability to place items in categories. The teacher can give Jane a checklist that asks her to look for more than one characteristic before she begins to put items in categories. The teacher can also point out the effective behaviours of Jane’s peers, such as thinking for awhile before beginning to put the items into categories and asking self-directed questions while working.
Learners with severe learning disabilities can reflect on their work with prompting and can learn to ask questions about what they are learning. They can also self-assess and monitor their understanding with simple techniques, such as the following traffic light method:
- Green—I understand well enough to explain to someone else.
- Yellow—I understand some but not completely.
- Red—I am confused and don’t understand at all.
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