By Randy Wilhelm
As the father of five school-age children, I am reminded daily that each child is special and each one learns differently. For instance, I have one son who learns best when he can hear the text he is reading at the same time. Another of my children is very tactile and has to touch something to understand it.
When we set out to commission – our 3rd annual “Schools & Generation Net” survey – I expected that teachers and principals well understood the critical need for differentiated instruction. However, when the results were tabulated, what made me sit up (and put down my iPhone) was the overwhelming majority (85%) that looked to the Web as a solution – and even more telling, the 60% of educators that agreed that their districts should invest more in digital resources, shifting dollars away from print materials.
The headline from the survey results, “Educators Want Web Solutions to Avoid Traditional Cookie Cutter Instruction,” points to the fact that today’s classroom is not well equipped for customized learning. Because kids learn differently and assimilate information differently, “one text for all” doesn’t cut it. Teachers need other instructional materials to help kids learn.
Today’s teachers are challenged to find resources that are both aligned to state standards and designed to engage every child in the learning process.
- The survey found that more than 70% of principals and nearly 70% of teachers expressed a need for assistance in finding resources that meet state curriculum standards.
- Four out of five educators (80%) agreed that they need multimedia Web resources, such as digital images, video, animation, and voice, to both stimulate and motivate their students.
In a utopian society, teachers would have the flexibility to invest in digital resources that they believed would help each child learn. But the decision doesn’t lie with them. It usually lies with the districts. And in some states, investing instructional materials dollars in digital Web-delivered resources isn’t even allowed.
As David Thornburg, Futurist, Lecturer, Author and Director of Global Operation, Thornburg Center, put it, “At a time when the need for powerful educational resources has never been higher, this study of educator’s needs and wants shows a strong desire to transition from print to online resources delivered through the Web.”
Bottom line? In today’s critical economy, where the squeeze is being put on everyone – including our precious schools, we are spending a disproportionate amount of dollars on print instructional materials. We need to re-look at the 1-2% of state expenditures that go toward instructional materials and the $4 billion spent on print materials and invest those dollars in digital resources that provide every child with a customized learning experience, every day.
Update: Michele King responded to this post with a practitioner’s perspective on how web tools can help teachers plan for differentiated instruction.