Contemporary classrooms consist of diverse student population. Students of different aptitude, socio economic origin, culture and ethnicity coexisting in each and every individual classroom make teachers' work much more complex and challenging. Teachers, being at the cutting edge of any educational endeavor, are expected to differentiate their instruction in order to fulfill the needs of all students in mixed ability classrooms. Nevertheless, in many cases, teachers have not been properly prepared for such a demanding task (i.e Fryer & Levitt, 2004, 2006; Porter, 2013 ).
This project aims to help teachers acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively apply differentiated instruction, thus being able to respond to the needs of all students in mixed ability classrooms. Furthermore the project seeks to establish an ethos of collaboration within every individual participating school, enabling teachers to rely on their own knowledge and expertise, apply peer coaching practices, jointly design lessons, develop instructional material, observe lessons of their colleagues, evaluate, reflect and improve their practices. This ethos will be facilitated by scaffolding processes in support: Exterior expert support will aim to develop in-house expertise. As teachers become more familiar with the skills needed to apply differentiated instruction, exterior support will be gradually reduced allowing teachers to become instructional leaders of their peers. Thus, the project aims to develop learning communities of practice that will not rely on exterior experts but will utilize their own human resources to provide ongoing training and support for their faculty. Scaffolding approaches not only empower teachers but also provide an effective solution for handling the scarcity of resources in teacher training. The ratio expert/teacher will be reduced, since teachers become experts themselves and through their own professional development will foster the professional development of their peers.
Finally, the project aims to create open spaces of learning. Utilizing contemporary ICT tools, like web-pages, discussion forums and e-class, the project will enhance the development of ICT literacy to teachers enabling them to communicate with their colleagues, exchange ideas and share instructional material. The outcomes of the project will be accessible not only to the participating institutions, but to anyone interested in the topic.
Based on the above, the specific objectives of the project are:
1) To provide training and support to teachers (primary schools) to apply differentiated instruction.
2) To develop school based training schemes, based on peer coaching approaches.
3) To create tools, methods and practices that will enhance collaboration and exchange of good practices within and between school units, at the local/national and the European level.
The prime target group of the project is teachers (primary schools). Nevertheless the project also addresses teacher trainers who will receive specialized training in order to be able to train and support teachers in the daily work. Indirectly, the project addresses head teachers who will benefit from the establishment of a professional learning community of practice in their schools. Last, the project outcomes will indirectly benefit students (of all readiness levels in mixed ability classrooms) who will receive better, tailored made instruction that will help them advance and experience success at school.
The most important outcomes of the project are:
1) Teacher training seminars/workshops in the areas of
(b) Lesson observation/ evaluation and feedback provision
The seminars will provide elementary school teachers the necessary skills (i) to apply differentiation of instruction and (ii) provide feedback and support to their colleagues.
2) An on-line learning platform (eclass)
The e-class on differentiation of instruction will enable participants to learn/ exchange ideas/ upload lesson plans and discuss with their peers and their trainers (at a local and a European level) through blogs/forums. This communication will be further enhanced via the development of a facebook page. An objective for this project is to have at least 800 teachers/teacher trainers (from the partner countries and abroad) log on the eclass and benefit of the resources available using them in their daily work. Note that the platform will allow teachers participating in the project to upload additional information, resources, documents, tools etc and share it with their colleagues. We expect that the volume of information available on the platform will increase as the number of users increases; our objective is to have at least 100 new resources uploaded from users during the implementation of the project, and this process will continue after the project's end. The eclass and its resources will be available even after the completion of the project for at least 2 more years.
Note that during the implementation of the project partners will maximize their efforts to provide full unrestricted access to the developed resources to any institution that wants to use them with an objective of crating at least 2 national partnerships with similar institutions in each country.
3) Material to support teachers and teacher trainers.
Book on good practices in the application of differentiated instruction. Besides the print version of the book, it will also be digitized and be available on the eclass freely accessible to anyone interested in the topic.
Cyprus Pedagogical Institute is the coordinator of the project. The participating partners of the project are the PEDAGOSKI INSTITUT from Slovenia, the University of VASILE ALECSANDRI DINBACAU in Romania and the Granada University from Spain. The project has started in September 2015 and will end by August 2017.