Teaching overseas is challenging so we try to challenge our teachers in our interviews. We are seeking to get a clear insight into what it would be like to be in their classroom and whether they have the skills to succeed in an ESL environment.
Most Common Question Teachers Struggle to Explain in an Interview
One of the interview questions we ask candidates is about how they differentiate their instruction for the various learners in the classroom. We find most teachers naturally incorporate elements of differentiation in their classrooms and can produce clear examples of how they help weaker students learn more effectively, but struggle to explain how they extend their high achievers and gifted students. One of the most common examples teachers provide of differentiation is giving students more work to keep them busy, which shows a misunderstanding of differentiation. Differentiating instruction is arguably the most effective way to teach ESL students so we wanted to go over some of the basics and help our teachers identify the strategies they use in their classrooms for gifted or high achieving students.
Differentiation is a student-centered approach to learning that implores the use of multiple approaches and a combination of whole class, group and individual instruction. It is about truly knowing your students and adapting what goes on in the classroom to benefit ALL students. This means we need to have an understanding of what our students already know through pre-assessment, what they understand through informal assessment and an understanding of our learners to create meaningful assessments that relate to the students’ interests and learning styles.
Four Ways to Differentiate
- content (what students learn)
- process (the ways students learn and how content is taught)
- product (how students present or demonstrate their learning)
- learning environment based on the individual learner.
Content can be altered in terms of the amount, complexity, type, intensity and focus. Gifted students need to be taught at a faster pace with less repetition and at a level based on their prior knowledge. Some effective strategies our teachers use are tiered lessons, scaffolding, various texts, alternative tasks with more variables or modifying the outcomes from a higher grade level. Bloom’s Taxonomy is also useful in designing questions that will extend students beyond comprehension to critical thinking.
Process refers to how students make sense or understand the information and skills being taught. You can alter the process by modifying the complexity and type of thinking, changing the pace, approach and student involvement. Cooperative learning, inquiry based learning, choice boards, literature circles and learning centres can be effective in differentiating the process.
Product is what the students produce to reflect their understanding. This can be varied in terms of the complexity, type (e.g. oral presentation, poster), authenticity and audience. High achievers and gifted students require specific expectations and product that can be applied to real-world situations, higher-level reasoning skills and a reason for sharing their findings. Assignments should not simply be more or less work, but altered for high-achievers so that they work on the same learning outcome with a greater level of complexity and abstractness.
Changes should also be made to the learning environment. It is a good idea to group gifted and able children together part of the time so they have the freedom to work at their own level and with peers of similar ability. Some of our teachers involve students in setting learning goals and monitoring their own progress, which allows them to practise higher-order thinking.
Self Reflection: Three Important Questions to Ask Yourself
No matter what a teacher does in the classroom, we should reflect on our practice and continually ask ourselves these three questions:
- What do I want my students to know, understand, and be able to do?
- What do I need to do instructionally to get my students to learn these?
- How will my students show their learning?
You Don't Need to Re-invent the Wheel
Differentiation is not easy, but the reality is our classrooms are becoming more diverse and it has been proven that without differentiation we are failing our gifted and high-achieving students. Targeting individual student intelligences with consideration of gender differences, preferred learning styles and cultural differences becomes an even greater challenge for teachers. This challenge becomes even more pronounced in an ESL environment so it is essential you give concrete examples of your differentiation in your interview so we feel confident in sending you to teach overseas.
Differentiation is not a new strategy or approach to teaching and learning so in preparing for any teaching interview make sure you analyse how you alter the content, process, product and learning environment for not only the weaker students, but those who need to be pushed to achieve at a higher level.