Monday, April 23, 2012

Differentiated Instruction and Bloom’s Taxonomy

In our current curriculum, all students of ESL are expected to master a same level of proficiency in English language at the end of primary education (C1 according to the Common European Framework of Reference). Helping all students succeed in their learning is a huge challenge that requires “innovative thinking”.

The main problem is that no one single student in a classroom has the same identical abilities, experiences, and needs. Learning styles, language proficiency, background knowledge, and many other factors can vary widely within a single class group.

Differentiated instruction is an instructional theory that allows teachers to face this challenge by taking diverse student factors into account when planning and delivering instruction. Based on this theory, teachers can structure learning environments that address the variety of learning styles, interests, and abilities found within a classroom.

Bloom’s taxonomy in action!

For example: English Language learners in Primary education may have trouble producing and understanding questions in English. But this doesn’t mean that they cannot move towards more advanced levels of thinking.

It is very important for ESL teachers to have in mind the Bloom’s taxonomy when we design and develop activities for young learners, especially when asking questions.
Bloom's taxonomy breaks down the critical thinking skills into different levels. The higher up on the triangle, the more difficult the skill.
So then, what are the questions we as teachers should ask students?

Primary school ESL students need to work on everything at the bottom of the triangle (the first three steps). First, they should practicing to answer simple questions, to learn vocabulary, to do matching activities (images and meanings), to complete sentences, to ask simple questions, to use appropriate structures of sentences, to classify words, to follow patterns and models, and so on.

Then, we should focus on working the capacity of finding the right information after understanding the question.

Teachers must start practicing with images, flashcards or any visual support, asking questions like “How many animals can you see in this picture?”

Then, we must invite children to make their own questions “What animal is it? Guess the animal! Has it got short or long ears?”

Later, from the picture, the teacher can ask questions that require more critical thinking, such as: Why do you think the lion is lying on the ground under the tree? Do you think the lion is hungry?

I’ve got a reading corner in my class, for year 2 students, with lots of different graded books. This is a weekly activity in which children choose a book to read. The first activity is to present the book to the rest of the class and explain why they have chosen it (this is usually made in L1).

Reading Corner
When they finish the book they must answer one question (I have already prepared) for each level of the Bloom’s triangle. More advanced readers (and good learners) are asked to write six different questions according to Bloom to be shared with other students.

Beginner learners are allowed to write the answers in their own language to facilitate coping with the levels of the taxonomy.

So, what else is new?

Working with the six levels of the Bloom’s Taxonomy promotes students self confidence and helps them in the development of metacognitive skills. In the above mentioned example, it helps children to be more conscious about the text comprehension.

After understanding the text, children have to start thinking in other difficult issues, such as, “What the author is really trying to say?” ... a big question promotes a big learning...

Example of questions posted in the classroom help remind teachers and students to think more critically
 And... a challenge for teachers!

What Differentiated Instruction Means for Teachers
Teachers DO
Teachers DON'T
  • provide several learning options, or different paths to learning, which help students take in information and make sense of concepts and skills.
  • develop a separate lesson plan for each student in a classroom.
  • provide appropriate levels of challenge for all students, including those who lag behind, those who are advanced, and those right in the middle.
  • "water down" the curriculum for some students.
 Chart by Jennipher Willoughby, a freelance writer and former science and technology specialist for Lynchburg City Schools in Lynchburg, Virginia.


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