Practice, Autonomy and Differentiated Instruction
Practice makes progress. But without an instructor to coach a learner how to practice and guide her/him towards excellence in his learning, nothing can be achieved. Being a skillful coach counts a lot in any teaching situation, be it teaching swimming, driving, etc… Students may become independent and autonomous only after they have been guided to practice in the right direction. No sailor would make his way in an ocean without first been instructed how to use a compass and other useful sea tricks. Autonomy comes after when your students feel secure to take further steps ahead without your assistance. If they they don’t feel confident enough to take these steps all the learning process will be a total fiasco.
On the other hand, autonomy is a key feature of a fully developed self. Learners must become independent one day or an other. After been given enough tools, basic instruction and enough guiding, learners shoud be advised to learn on their own. They must be encouraged to use the world outside the classroom to learn more or to put what they have learned into practice. The real world needs fully grown up people. People who are able to think independently, take actions and be responsible for their choices. The ideal is to have free intelligent minds shaping and being influenced by the real outside world.
Instruction and the first steps towards autonomy take place in the classroom. The problem is that our students differ in getting instruction and taking their first steps. Some are quick and need just few guide lines. Others take much more time and don’t feel secure enough until later in their learning. Here comes to play the teachers skill to adapt his teaching towards students neeeds. The teacher need to provide individualized instruction according to each student’s needs. This is the essence of differenciated instruction.
In differentiated instruction students are placed at the center of teaching and learning. Kathy Bigo defines differentiation as “the right of each pupil to be taught in a way specifically tailored to their individual learning needs.” Because each learner comes to school with a different set of learning needs, examples of which include differing educational, personal, and communal contexts and varying degrees of academic skill development, differentiated instruction advocates that the educator proactively plans a variety of instruction methods so as to best facilitate effective learning experiences which are suited to the various learning needs within the classroom. In its pursuit of this foundational goal, differentiated instructional methods attempt to qualitatively, as opposed to quantitatively, match learners’ abilities with appropriate material; include a blend of whole-class, group, and individual instruction; use numerous approaches to facilitating input, processing, and output; and constantly adapt to learners’ needs based upon the teacher’s constant assessment of all students.