Differentiation for Their World

by Fritz Geissler, M.Ed.

"For whose world are we preparing our students?"
"We need to prepare our students for their future."

If you've been to a technology conference recently, you've probably heard this question and answer or something similar. What does preparing students for the future really mean, especially for schools?

"Their World"

What does it mean to prepare students for the future? In Ten Trends: Educating Children for a Profoundly Different Future (2002) , author Gary Marx suggests that social and intellectual capital will be the primary economic value in society. Such an economy will be driven by technology and information. The role of 21st century schools need to be radically altered to assist students in learning to collaborate, evaluate information, engage in critical and creative thinking, use a vast array of technological tools and possess high levels of perseverance and curiosity (Marx, 2002). As computers control more and more tasks, we are left with our creativity and ability to produce products with technology (Zolli, 2007).

Students are in fact engaging in activities to prepare themselves for the future. According to a study by the National School Boards Association (NSBA, 2007), students ages 9 through 17 are already engaged in creating, producing, and evaluating information. The students who were surveyed reported spending an average of 8 hours per week online, and 50% of those students were discussing schoolwork for at least part of that time. The students were blogging and creating websites, videos, podcasts and photos that they uploaded online. These students are digital natives who have grown up in a world infused with technology and digital resources.

What Does This Mean for Instruction?

Schools can support students by bringing technology into the classroom in order to differentiate instruction. "Differentiated classrooms operate on the premise that learning experiences are most effective when they are engaging, relevant and interesting" (Tomlinson, 200, p. 5) and that all students will not always find the same avenues to learning equally engaging, relevant, and interesting. Today's computers and programs allow most learning styles to be met in delivering instruction and developing student-created products. For example, a unit on autobiographies might have students creating their own autobiography in video, audio, or written format. To help create or activate background knowledge, visual learners could view a video, linguistic learners could read about the topic, and auditory learners could listen to information. A reluctant writer may be more likely to blog about his or her experiences, whereas shy student may prefer to create a video presentation rather than give an oral report.

Many technology-based projects encourage the higher levels of learning involved in synthesizing information for creating projects and producing new knowledge. Projects that incorporate activities fostering these higher levels of thinking lead to increased student achievement (Marzano, Pickering & Pollock, 2001). A project where groups of students create a movie of an original myth requires students not only to recognize the components of a myth, but also to apply those components to original work. Another advantage of technology projects is that they typically involve both linguistic and nonlinguistic representations of content through video, photos, or audio. The more we use both systems of representation - linguistic and nonlinguistic - the better we are able to think about and recall knowledge (Marzano, et al., 2001).

While today's students are skilled in the use of technology, they need instruction in how to create and design products. Effective creation of technology-based products incorporates many components of the writing process: brainstorming, outlining, planning, creating, revising, and editing. By breaking projects into phases of planning, creating, and revising/editing, teachers can assess student understanding and mastery of content throughout the process. Using this opportunity to re-teach and clarify information, as needed, teachers create optimal conditions for student success.

It is crucial to maintain effective instructional practices when integrating technology into the classroom. Instructing students on the writing process is important whether students are handwriting a paper or typing it on a computer. Sound instructional practices cannot be sacrificed because teachers are using technology. Another important consideration is whether or not the same learning outcomes can be accomplished as well or better using more readily available and easy-to-use tools and resources (Harris, 2005). If so, there is no need to incorporate technology into the lesson. However, when it comes to differentiating instruction, technology provides a significant advantage over "more readily available tools."


Harris, J. (2005). Is it worth it? Deciding if technology is worth the time, effort and money. Inter active Educator, 1(2), 34-37.

Marx, G. (2002). Ten trends: Educating children for tomorrow's world. Journal of School Improvement, 3(1). Retrieved March 1, 2008, from http://www.ncacasi.org/jsi/2002v3i1/ten_trends

Marzano, R. J., Pickering, D. J., & Pollock, J. E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

National School Boards Association (2007). CREATING & CONNECTING//Research and Guidelines on Online Social - and Educational - Networking [Electronic Version]. Retrieved December 20, 2007, from http://www.nsba.org/site/view.asp?CID=63&DID=41340

Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to differentiate in mixed-ability classrooms (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Zolli, A. (2007, June). Keynote address. Speech presented at National Educational Computing Conference, Atlanta, GA.

Date: May/June 2008