I have shared in the past how BrainPOP is much more than a movie site and is great for providing a broad range of learning opportunities. I want to focus on the way it allows teachers to differentiate learning opportunities for students. My background in New York City’s District 75, citywide special education, makes personalizing learning crucial to my work due to the diverse needs of the students. Even those students with the same challenges like autism don’t respond to the material and in the same way. As is said, knowing one child with autism is knowing but one child with autism. That’s why I need multiple means to provide information. My BrainPOP allows for that kind of choice and flexibility. Before I get into how you can make that happen, I want to explain why differentiation and personalization of learning are important.
No teacher can be truly effective without first knowing their students. That not only means knowing their academic challenges and strengths but also in knowing who they are personally. By knowing their interests and passions, you can provide learning experiences that are intrinsically motivating and not just driven by external demands. That is why differentiation, a key component of personalized learning, demands attention.
Despite being regularly discussed in education circles, differentiated learning is often misunderstood to mean creating a wholly different lesson for every student and that, along with other misunderstandings related to the issue, has led some in recent years to decry differentiation as a dirty word or at least as too much work for too little reward. That continued misunderstanding has also led many teachers to abandon the practice. While there are genuine challenges to differentiating learning and growing skillful at it is a career-long goal that, like any real skill, is not perfected after one training session it is still important and necessary. Now with modern EdTech tools, like the ones I’ll share about in BrainPOP, it becomes much easier for teachers to manage.
Without going into a diatribe on all the details of what differentiated learning entails I will say simply this. Differentiation is one of the pinnacles that falls under the larger category of personalized learning. This may include personalizing instruction by varying time spent on particular skills, creating learner profiles, allowing student agency, or providing flexible learning environments. Those flexible environments are what could be described as differentiation. There are a myriad of ways to adapt learning environments on which much has been written. You can continue to research that, but it is important to know first why it is crucial to create a safe space that is conducive to individual learning. It is because simply presenting information in only one capacity relegates many students to almost certain failure and I’m not willing to say that the efforts to learn should fall solely on the student. If it falls completely on the student then why do we even need teachers. Just build a website with the information and walk away. Right?
As I said, there are tools available like My BrainPOP that make the process of differentiating student work and creating a flexible learning environment. Part of that effort is choice and BrainPOP allows that in the selection of topics, level of activity (BrainPOP vs. BrainPOP Jr., etc.), and in how students can demonstrate their mastery on a given topic through quizzes, games, or digital projects. You could decide to start a class with a movie or assign it individually, but then what do you do? Some kids may learn better through games while others need visual maps or just want to show what they know on a quiz. Here are the steps for how you can make that all available for your students while getting data on all of their efforts.
- Use My BrainPOP – This won’t work with a school account so make sure you set up a personalized account. Most school accounts come with this ability. It’s even easier if your account is integrated with Clever or G Suite for Education.
- Set Up My Classes – This can be done by sharing a class code you create for students as they set up their account and again there are the Clever and G Suite options.
- Find a Topic – What do you want students to learn about? This shouldn’t be hard. BrainPOP offers a wide range of topics to choose from.
- Select Assign – Underneath the video are buttons for lesson ideas, creating unique quizzes, and assigning a topic. Select the assign button for more options.
- Select Assignment Builder – Instead of just assigning the movie, choose Assignment Builder at the bottom to go to select features (see image above).
- Choose Learning Path – Now begin selecting which activities and in which order you want students to complete them. Consider whether they learn best through play or projects or whether a visual map or additional reading would best serve their understanding. Even if you decide on a quiz, will it be the standard one or is it modified? Will it be graded or for review? This is where you are accounting for student needs and preferences.
- Set the Details – Give the learning path a title and instructions. Then decide which class and which group of students learn best through the path you created. You can select one student or several.
- Repeat for Other Groups – Does another group need more playful vocabulary review through the Meaning of Beep? Now you can go through the same process choosing other features and select a different group of students to receive it.
As you can see creating differentiated tasks for a few groups of students shouldn’t be too challenging. You can decide how many different pathways are necessary for your students or if you will inform them that they are working through the information in different ways. To save yourself the time you can send the same pathway to multiple classes (if you have them) simultaneously by adding another class in step 7. And with that, you are on the path to personalizing learning for your students. With practice and as you learn more about your students, you will become more efficient at creating pathways that are most effective.