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MATC Synthesis Paper: DIFFERENTIATION IS A SUPERPOWER WEST 1

MATC Synthesis Paper

Differentiation is a Superpower

A depiction of how the Masters of Arts of Teaching and Curriculum have bettered my teaching
practice through emphasizing the importance of differentiation and how to design a curriculum
for all students learning needs

Kaitlyn West
PID A43143875
July 17, 2017
MATC Synthesis Paper: DIFFERENTIATION IS A SUPERPOWER WEST 2

Kaitlyn West

MATC Synthesis Paper

Introduction:

If you could have any one superpower, which would it be? Why? I would be willing to

bet there is not an American adult alive today that did not ask themselves or their friends this as a

kid. As a child, I responded that I wanted to fly so I could avoid my fear of planes and travel.

Now, I travel often and have outgrown my fear of flying. However, if you asked me today, I

would say I want the power of teleportation so I do not have to pay for expensive, long plane

rides my adventures require. In reality, I am kind of a superhero; all teachers are. My superpower

is that I know how to teach children Spanish. Everyday I get to go into work and initiate the

power of new knowledge for student growth. I am actually transforming adolescent minds in not

only Spanish but also their way of thinking, their autonomy, problem-solving, etc. But, what if I

said I actually do not have to choose just one super power? Or, that my superpower comes with a

sub set of powers that make it stronger and more reliable?

Prior to the Masters of Arts in Teaching and Curriculum, I often felt the pressures and

trials of a novice teacher. I felt like my superhero power had room to grow. During my

undergraduate career at Michigan State, I was wise on theories and strategies of practice in my

methods courses. I was confident in confronting behavior management after the readings we had

done. What I was lacking in my arsenal of power was the ability to differentiate my instruction

effectively to include all diverse learners needs that were so present in my classroom.

Section 1: Background

As a mentee teacher I felt flustered and constantly behind in lesson and curriculum

planning. I was always finding tiny errors such as typos or the exclusion of examples in my self-
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generated materials for students. Truly, I was feeling overwhelmed and subpar. On my good

days I felt like an average teacher. Although my students would constantly tell me I was their

favorite and other teachers told me I was doing great and it is all normal, I wondered why feeling

inadequate is normal and how I could feel abnormal; I want to feel like a quality teacher.

In assessing my view of quality teaching I realized I needed to focus my efforts on a

specific aspect of my teaching to be improved. So, I knew I struggled with designing a

curriculum on my own and accounting for students needs when doing so. Previously, as a

mentee and a first year teacher I was handed the curriculum outlines by my mentor or a

colleague. With the outline, tests, and notes in hand I simply created activities to plan lessons.

Quickly I grew frustrated and unsatisfied with the curriculum at my school because I did not

agree with the speed with which that material was taught, the outline and order of the material,

nor the tests being given. I wanted the curriculum to be better for the students. I wanted to be

better for my students. Therein lies my goal.

My decision to enter the Masters of Arts in Teaching and Curriculum at Michigan State

University was motivated by my desire to be a higher quality teacher in learning to develop and

implement curriculum that accounts for all of my diverse students learning needs.

Section 2: Discovering Individual Students Needs

Each course taken in the MATC program furthers me into a pool of knowledge of how to

design a curriculum suited for all students learning styles. I have taken a technology course,

literacy course, and courses centered on designing curriculum for overt diversity within a

classroom. All of these program courses share the common thread of teaching me how to

maximize my teaching efforts in preparing an appropriate curriculum for all of my students. This

concept plays into many of the goals and standards of the Master of Arts in Teaching and
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Curriculum; but specifically focusing on Standard 4 as it relates to critical, reflective thinking on

my own practice in order to develop meaningful opportunities for all students. For, example a

recent project in my MATC career comes to mind, immediately. While in TE 846,

Accommodating Differences in Secondary Literacy Learners we developed a case study with a

student struggling in their literacy of our content. I selected a student that I called Jack. Jack

outwardly appeared to be in the social majority category of society. However, he had a

diagnosed learning disability that actually has to do with literacy which makes school really

difficult for him. The adversities he faced were not overt but they mentally took a toll on him. TE

846 developed in me the tool in my superhero belt to know how and when to assess students

literacy in the forms of pre and post assessments and design differentiated lessons to overcome

their content specific literacy roadblocks. This course long process allowed me to experience an

individualized approach to configuring a curriculum specifically designed to be inclusive of this

student's learning needs so I could grow as a teacher and to do that with more students at a

classroom level was pivotal in my experience in the MATC program. Currently, I am planning to

implement a literacy assessment for all students to take place during the first week of school so I

can assess my students Spanish background and learn how they interact with content new

content using prior knowledge to guide them. In this way, I can help students like Jack earlier on

in the school year. Also, during TE 846 my already refined ability to positively collaborate with

students parents for the good of students education was challenged and experienced more

growth that I thought necessary.

Time and time again Jacks parents thanked me for taking the time to understand their

sons needs and really breaking down Spanish for him and developing his content literacy

abilities. This gave me a sense of validation, reinforcing the idea that differentiation can happen
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earlier and more easily in the school year if I learn the learning needs of my students earlier in

the year. The differentiation of and developing of a curriculum in my Spanish courses has also

been positively affected by my sociocultural MATC courses.

In TE 807 I had to analyze a specific artifact that was representative of much of how I

like to design my curriculum and critique it with a partner. The artifact I used was for a walk

around activity in Spanish. The students were to walk around with a partner and each answer the

questions hanging on posters around the room using the grammar structure we were learning and

unit vocabulary. I was forced to ask myself hard questions, such as: how could I make this more

inclusive of all students, how can I better design this activity so I can check for understanding of

all students with more facility, etc. We used peer coaching, readings and collaboration with our

professor to evaluate and brainstorm possible transformations we could make of our artifact. The

peer coaching was implemented less as a form of editing our final papers but more as a way a

system with which colleagues can discuss the benefits and drawbacks of teaching methods. TE

807 taught me the background basics that differentiation means making each lesson available to

all types of learners and that collaboration has a strong hand in doing so.

Juxtaposed to this class, TE 818 Curriculum and its Social Context, granted me the

unique opportunity to peer out from around my cultural norms, isolated in my own background

of cultural experiences. Only then was I able to connect with the fact that I deem some students

responses to curriculum, behaviors, and lines of thinking abnormal because they do not fit the

social construct of experiences with which I am familiar. I also learned that null curriculum is

what is not included in schools because of its social controversy or designated unimportance and

that this often means teachings with something to offer for minority cultures are excluded. For

example, most Americans cannot name the nations of Central American, our nearest global
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neighbors. Therefore, the school template often does not fit everyone and this can be detrimental

for students. Now, I could understand that making explicit for some, what is implicit for others is

critical in making sure all students are given a fair chance to learn class curriculum. Even more,

TE 818 was filled with projects that allowed me to peer into my philosophy as a teacher and even

the physical layout of my classroom to analyze how all of the other components of teaching

influence the manner by which curriculum is relayed to students. Combining all of these new

understandings about my innate ignorance curriculum and students I was able to move forward

with a zest for fostering inclusivity and creating equitable opportunities. My MATC experience

perfectly aligned with Standard 4 in this way and many others as well.

Section 3: Structuring Differentiation

My time in the MATC program also helped me learn not just the importance of

differentiation but how to structure differentiation. As far as the Program Standards are

concerned, my growth as a teacher in regards to differentiation strongly correlates with Standards

1 and 2, those are, understanding students and their diversity and understanding how to teach the

content and design curriculum for students understanding. Students diversity affects everything

about them, from their backgrounds to the way they learn. My TE 890 and TE 823 courses

centered on the topic of multicultural education and developing equity in curriculum planning to

account for all students diverse learning needs. The insight I gained and ability to self-reflect on

my own teaching beliefs and practices has proven and will continue to prove invaluable to my

students of the present and future because I am able to remove myself from my own experiences,

which shape my beliefs of how the curriculum should unfold for all students to make sense of it,

and put myself in the perspective of my students, now. I can better understand the struggles with

which some students are facing in approaching the grammar I am teaching or the perspective
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with which they are approaching the culture or their Spanish speaking and listening skills

because of their diverse past life experiences have molded the way with which they perceive a

foreign language. Therefore, I am confident I was able to grasp Goals 1 and 2 of the MATC

program which are critical inquiry and accomplished teaching. It was a goal of mine to target my

teaching to all students individual needs in order to make their Spanish language learning

experience more equitable as I found diversity was often overlooked when planning my

curriculum.

Aside from the various examples I explicitly learned to create during my courses of

sample lessons with differentiation, I also came to understand the theory behind and how to

design differentiated lessons independently. In TE 823 Learning Communities and Equity, I

gained the understanding that differentiation helps build community in a classroom. No longer is

community a buzzword I use to indicate effective classroom management strategies, it is a

word that means every student needs to know their education matters to the success of our

classroom community. In this way, I plan to work with students more fruitfully on an individual

level, and have students work collaboratively with more purpose. TE 823 helped me develop and

reinforce the use of station learning in order to promote differentiated instruction. It also helped

me decide I need to restructure the homework assignments so students of different learning

levels and with differing home life experiences can all benefit from home learning but at a pace

appropriate for them. Additionally, to incorporate a more multicultural curriculum I have taken

to incorporating, student-guided vocabulary lists and student guided culture activities. Students

now have a say in the vocabulary they will be learning, this ensures that each of my culturally

diverse students is represented and can engage with the units as it gives them a sense of
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ownership. In these ways, I encountered and met even more of the standards and goals of the

MATC program.

Section 4: Using Technology for Differentiation to Enhance Student Learning

Although I have only taken one technology course as an elective, I have learned

numerous ways that integrating technology contributes to differentiation from all of my courses.

Goal 3 and Standard 6 of the MATC program were accommodated here because of the

collaborative approach of my courses that allowed me to interact with my peers in order to grow

my knowledge of technology integration in the classroom. A few simple things I have integrated

to make the beginning of the school year more engaging for students are: creating introduction

videos, interactive student portfolios online, and syllabi in the form of infographics. These are

ideas I acquired directly from my peers in the form of biweekly technology sharing discussion

forums throughout TE 831 Teaching School Subject Matter with Technology. In almost all of

my MATC courses, the professors have integrated some sort of digital self-introduction

component. I have actively used those project ideas to create my own video to introduce myself

to my students and designed a project for my Spanish level one students to introduce and discuss

their family structures with me to go along with our unit five lessons. The kids, being well-

versed with their smartphones, have created everything from simple videos to well-edited pieces

of work to turn in. However, the content is all the same and this sort of differentiation still allows

all of my students to grow to be technology savvy beings in a world that is becoming ever so

dependent on technology. The number of tools I was able to familiarize myself with from my

peers and professor during my time in TE 831 will prove invaluable to improving the curriculum

to be engaging and individualized for my Spanish students.


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Another way I would like to integrate technology as a means of differentiation in the

classroom as I learned and adapted from my professors and peers a vodcast project and blogs. I

learned these techniques in TE 831 and also TE 823. Students would get a choice to write about

or speak about whichever of the cultural notes they choose. Currently, we take culture notes as a

whole class lecture. This project I designed, based on my time in MATC, affords students to

interact with cultural content in a more in-depth and project based way while giving them some

choice. It is also, somewhat, Socratic in its design because students are learning from each

others projects which are more engaging than a full class lecture by the teacher. Without

MATC, I would never have realized how some of my lessons could so easily be transformed

toward promoting differentiation with technology as a means for student growth.

Not only did I have the chance to collaborate with my peers but then I was able to take

the tools I learned to use to enhance my students experience with Spanish learning and take

them to my Department meetings and Professional Learning Community meetings to share with

my fellow high school teacher colleagues. I led a department meeting on using Google

Classroom and Google Forms to help go paperless in the world language classroom, how to

create digital syllabi for students, and creating interactive student portfolios to focus on

proficiency practice and create purposeful homework for students in order to replace traditional

worksheets. The evidence is clear that throughout my MATC experience I was able to continue

growing into a more successful teacher by learning through others and sharing with others what I

had learned. At the same time, my coursework and contributions met a couple additional goals

and standards of the program which are teacher leadership beyond the classroom and

contributing to the field through professional learning communities.

Conclusion:
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As a teacher nearing completion of the Masters of Arts in Teaching and Curriculum

program through MSU, I can say with conviction that my arsenal of teacher tools in my

superhero belt has grown exponentially. Michigan State has prepared me well to move

forwarding educating all sorts of diverse learners. Whether the different learners are of different

cultures and background, learning styles or abilities I know that I can confidently rely on the

skills I learned through the MATC program to teach effectively. I now feel savvy, confident,

well equipped and inventive to plan creative, differentiated lessons more effectively for my

students. After all, a main goal of the MATC program is to gain and understanding our students,

their diversity, and how to design a curriculum, form assessments, and alter instruction to meet

their needs. My time spent in this program has been filled with a combination of exactly what the

program standards and goals described. Thus, I am confident in that I will be an even more

effective educator, or superhero, because of my time spent in the Master of Arts in Teaching and

Curriculum program through the leading and innovating College of Education at Michigan State.