Differentiating instruction for students based on readiness, interest, and learning style is a powerful way to make learning personal and effective. Research shows that giving students options in how they engage with content and skill practice often results in an overall increase in engagement and growth.
When I made it a point to shift my middle school classroom to a fully differentiated model, I put in the hard work to create student-driven activities and experiences for my diverse population of learners.
There were exploratory projects, fascinating articles, student-created podcasts, curated video clips, gamified practice, and even virtual field trips. My classroom literally had something for everyone. But there was a problem: students were struggling with the time management skills associated with a choice-driven learning environment.
As a social studies teacher in the Common Core era, my curricular responsibilities have gradually shifted away from historical material and more towards the realm of teaching strategies for reading and creating nonfiction text. More and more, teaching the skills required to engage with social studies content has usurped the push to memorize names, dates, locations, and stories.
When you think about it, this makes sense for our modern world. If you need to know the date of The Battle of Hastings or the architects who planned out the Parthenon, the internet can bring that information to you (often with just the sound of your voice). What the internet can’t as easily do is critically analyze its own information for the reader and weed out disinformation and nonsense.
A large part of education today is focused on helping students to navigate and responsibly digest the limitless plethora of information that is available. One way to do this is to focus on strengthening reading skills through the use of carefully selected current event materials. Putting reputable news sources in front of students is a way to build literacy skills while, at the same time promote the critical reading strategies required to become engaged, informed citizens. After all, how can we expect students to recognize reputable sources if they haven’t seen examples to build their schema from?