In my current teaching position, I serve as an online classroom mentor for students taking Spanish. While I do not actually teach them the content, I am responsible for making sure they are successful in the class. The class is organized into 18 units of lessons, guided practice activities, assignments, quizzes, and educational games. In Edutopia’s online article, “Blended Learning: Strategies for Engagement,” it presents different ideas to engage students in a blended online and bricks and mortar classroom.
A strategy for students was to differentiate instruction. While I am not capable of adjusting the work load of students, I believe that the online instructors should pay better particular attention to the needs of each student. Being that I personally monitor the progress of each student, Student A. may be on Unit 7 while Student B. may be just finishing up with Unit 5. Spanish is difficult to learn in a regular classroom setting, and I imagine that learning it online is even more challenging.
From the beginning of my educational education, professors have talked about differentiation. In my teaching job last year, I differentiated instruction all of the time to meet the individual needs of students. At that time, I was in my third year of teaching at this school, and I knew the students. I knew their strengths and weaknesses as students. Now, I’ve just started a new teaching position and am finding it difficult to individually challenge each student. This is because I really don’t know the students.
What is my point? I find it difficult to assess the needs of my students that I see in my classroom every day. I really just became good at differentiating instruction in my second year of teaching the same students. I imagine that it is difficult to truly get to know the needs of your students as an online teacher. Obviously you know if a student isn’t completing their work or performing in a satisfactory manner, but it takes more than that to differentiate. It takes knowing students’ needs to complete an assignment successfully. It takes altering your own teaching style to accommodate everyone. It may be just a matter of giving a student more time or reducing the amount of problems, but it may be something more.
Andrew Miller, the author of the article, says that targeting online work keeps students engaged and keeps online learning individualized. How can you target your students and individualize instruction if you don’t know them? The Spanish instructor that I work with has minimal contact with the students. Differentiation is key to the success of any student, but a relationship with the student must be developed in order to understand their needs.