Positive and Negative Situations for the
Application of Idividualized Instruction in China
Dept. of Educational Management, SE, BNUZ He Wenchao
The purpose of this paper is to give teachers an overview about the present application of individualized instruction by analyzing and classifying various kinds of individualized instruction. Based on this, we discuss the situations that the applications are facing to, in order to help teachers to find out solutions for the problems that exit at the present.
2. The Concept of Individualized Instruction
Individualization of Instruction is a teaching philosophy developed in the 1950s. It recognizes that each learner is unique and rigorous, relevant, complex and flexible. Individualized instruction is a response to that uniqueness, which is student-centered and not teacher-centered as in conventional systems. It is student-centered because it focuses all activities on the needs of each student in his efforts to achieve predetermined specific objectives. The core of it is: taking individual learners’ characteristics into consideration, the course is designed to meet the needs of individual learners; learning process, characterized by learner self-management, is adapted to each particular individual; content and teaching style are determined by learners’ preference; learners are the center of education; learners’ autonomy is fostered and with their autonomy increased, learners are given more and more freedom.
3. Macroscopical Situation for Individualized Instruction
3.1 The Philosophical and Theoretical Foundation for Individualized Instruction
The trend of the developing of individualized instruction in the society results from commonly notable and acceptable researches in education and psychology. Exactly, the foundation for individualized instruction should be at least three theories: Cognitivism, Humanism and Constructivism, which respectively recommends teachers to provided well-organized knowledge and to bridge over the gap between new knowledge and prior knowledge, to construct the learning atmosphere of relaxation, happiness and freedom and to be organizers, guides and cooperators, emphasizing learners’ interest and emotion, and to recognize that student should be the center of instruction and teachers are to help them assimilate and acclimate to new knowledge in order to construct meanings under specific situation.
With the three theories’ developing, the mode of individualized instruction becomes more and more popular and considerable schools have applied it into everyday teaching to make their instruction more effective.
3.2 Positive Situation
More and more school leaders focus on the latest trend in educational circles, which may benefit their schools’ instructional effect. They promote the modern educational theories and thoughts to their teachers, in which must include the three notable theories mentioned above.
Since most teachers have accepted such advanced educational and philosophical theories, they tend to design their own individualized instruction. It is easy to know that once the principles are accepted, their behavior will follow what the principles demand.
3.3 Negative Situation
Even although those advanced educational theories have been accepted by most educators in China, individualized instruction still develops very slowly, for which the main reason is that the new ideas for education is not economical. It seems unable to afford the measures taken to realize the theories for the current situation of educational budget and the capability of citizens of disbursement, and then a number of people consider that individualized instruction will always be the western world’s patent and for a period it’s just applauded on paper or by word of mouth in educational theoretical circles in China.
On the other hand, natural defensive psychology of Chinese people always influences their judgment since all of those theories are introduced from western world. Under this situation, Chinese people won’t apply them completely. On the contrary, they tend to efficiently apply those theories or orders raised by Chinese people, especially by central government.
So, synchronous instruction remains popular in many schools at present. Individualized instruction is mostly applied in distant education and special education, in which there’s less color of tradition.
Now that Chinese people have had the natural defensive psychology for western theories to apply, Chinese scholars and experts on this field have the responsibility to reconstruct them and to give the new ones a label—“Made in
4. Microscopical Situation for Individualized Instruction
4.1 A Model for all kinds of Individualized Instruction
The author has referred to a great amount of literature about individualized instruction. It’s funny to find that various articles don’t discuss the same “individualized instruction”. Their “individualized” has different bounds, which indicates that the thoughts on individualized instruction have different levels. However, many of those papers mistakenly consider the situation of a specific level as those of the entire “individualized instruction”. Here I would like to discuss every level’s situation respectively.
Figure 1: Different levels of the thought of individualized instruction
4.2 Curriculum Level of the Model
In this level, instructional designers focus on the frameworks for integrated unites that address the needs of all students. Their researches emphasize curricula’s content and common psychological principles about learners, and they promote learning and inclusiveness by engaging and scaffolding students with varying abilities through thematic, integrated lessons that utilize various media and technologies.
From Individualized Instruction: An Integrated Approach
by Kathleen J. Tate & Margie L. DeBroux
When designed in curriculum level, individualized instruction can be successfully applied just when the students’ intelligences have been well examined and the teachers can shift their instructional strategies according to the result. It’s appropriate for skillful teachers to apply it in those schools have abundant resource of psychological measuring and harmony of instructional plan for various subjects and classes.
However, if the leaders of schools CANNOT raise a scientific instructional plan as a whole, including the measure for students at appropriate period and the integration of different subjects aiming at particular intelligence and of different intelligences belonging to one subject, all the teachers would feel frustrated!
So I suggest the schools give every effort to construct a complete and consummate system of instructional planning with every resource utilized, when the leaders decide to design their individualized instruction at curriculum level.
4.3 Class Level of the Model
Some educators have pointed out that there’s great disparity of knowledge and ability among the students in the same grade and then it is necessary to divide them in to different classes according to their level of knowledge and ability. They argue that instruction should be adapted to the disparity and schools ought to avoid great disparity in the same class, which makes our instruction has positive influence on all levels of students, or some ratio of students may always receive low effective and low efficient instruction.
These educational thoughts become the base of class level of individualized instruction, according to which teachers should design their instruction aiming at their own classes with the analysis of the students’ common characteristics.
But as known to all, there are too many standards to assess students’ knowledge, ability, character and the like. So they can be divided in to different classes under different standards. Under this situation, teachers emphasize students’ marks of subject examinations that is NOT the accordance and guidance of instructional design other than prior knowledge, cognitive ability, learning style, etc. Though exam marks can indicate these factors, teachers can not prove them just by the numbers.
So it’s challenging for teachers to analysis and to conclude the common characteristics of the students in the same class after divided.
Thus, individualized instruction can just be applied when the students in the same class tend to be common in various areas.
4.4 Group Level of the Model
Group learning not only promote students’ cooperation and learning interest, but also help teachers to apply individualized instruction. This is important when class size is not small.
In this level of individualized instruction, teachers assume that every group of students can be considered as an individual at some situation. Teachers tend to organize group discussions, games, dramas and the like, in order to decrease the amount of “individuals”. That’s, before grouping, every student is an individual, but after they are divided into groups, every several students in the same group can be considered as an individual. In this situation, it is convenient for teachers to give individualized guidance.
However, we can not exclude the possibility that some weak students have less participation in the group activities and receive not enough attention while some talents control the group and other members may feel unhappy. So teachers should pay attention to these two kinds of students and treated them specially.
4.5 Special Individuals Level of the Model
Every class has its comparatively slow students and intelligent ones who make up the group of special individuals. In this level of individualized instruction, teachers emphasize the special treatment to these students.
For example, when a student is found to have trouble in reading, teachers should provide him or her extra training. Teachers should avoid that such students "slip-by" year after year until they are finally at a grade where reading instruction is no longer part of the curriculum, because in this course, this one weak point may destroy all subjects’ study.
On the contrary, when a student is found to be a talent, teachers should give them freedom to take further study other than the current curricula.
However, some interview with teachers indicates that they may have no confident and patience to help slow students individually. Some teachers even think that those who come in high will leave high and those who come in low will leave low. They see little use in individualizing their instruction to meet the needs of their compensatory education students as they have low expectations of the students. Frustrated by the large numbers with low reading skills, they see themselves as powerless to help her students, while they view most of the student as beyond help.
This is the fatal situation for the level of individualized instruction. And I think it is hard to change those teachers who have had such consideration. However, we can recommend young teachers to apply it, for young teachers commonly have more enthusiasm for career. At the same time, if the parents of slow students can cooperate with schools, it may receive better effect.
4.6 Common Individuals Level of the Model
In this level, individualized instruction is aimed at a single learner and designed to accommodate that individual learner’s learning needs. Individualized instructional materials allow the learner to create and follow a unique path through the materials. Learners respond to materials individually, and have the materials respond to the learner’s choices and actions individually. To realize such functions, CAI or internet-based instruction should be the most appropriate choice.
Under this situation, students learn as much or more and they learn it more rapidly through individualized instruction than they do through the traditional model. This conclusion was true when programmed instruction was the rage in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Through CAI or internet, students can work at their own paces, needn’t look to their peers for support, receive individualized feedback quickly, select their favorite courses, check the record of learning history and raise their interest in learning.
Today, computer and internet is more and more popular, which give CAI and distant education physical foundation. More and more children have the opportunity to study through interesting software, and more and more adult take advanced courses through the internet. Their needs on instruction become unlimited unless their imagination is lost.
Under this situation, IT engineers are busy designing programs to meet the needs. However, will computer take place of teacher on day? Although computer has become more and more intellectualized, it still lacks of many functions that teacher can provide, such as emotion, argue, etc.
Today, the most embarrassed situation is that there are not many people who can be skillful teachers as well as computer experts. The best situation is that students study CAI course while a real teachers can give guidance when necessary.
However, the fact is that many teachers don’t manage the computer settings and CAI is always relying on professional computer experts. But the experts don’t know much of teaching method. That instructional theory and computer technology cannot be well mixed leads to the slowness of the developing for effective and efficient CAI.
Thus, from the perspective of school, I suggest that teachers take relative training to gain more knowledge of the science of computer, internet and software. From the perspective of family, I suggest that parents give guidance and supervisal to children when they use computer and make sure they are studying CAI course other than playing computer games. What’s more, parents can help children select courses with explaining what the course may be and may give them.
4.7 Independent Level of the Model
In this level, teachers are to cultivate students’ independence of learning through teaching them learning strategies. Some educators call this Strategy Instruction and consider it an important part of individualized instruction.
Teachers can integrate strategy instruction into common subject curricula, with Jones, B. F.’s mode: support, adjust and remove support, which has been proved effective through experiment. When students have get mastery of learning strategy, they may tent to learn individually and independently. This also can achieve the goal of individualized instruction.
This way to promote individualized instruction should be the most efficient. As known to us, the core value of individualized instruction is “student centered”. If students have a degree of independence of learning, the value will be realized naturally!
Further more, so far as I can see, this level’s strategy has the least negative situation for the application. And there are considerable positive situation, such as low cost, not much difficulty, and need less time and patience because of it’s integrated into daily subject classes.
Nowadays, the mode of individualized instruction has become a trend for the developing of instructional design. The precondition that we apply it well is having comprehended that what situation we are in and that what strategy we ought to use.
For one hand, we should avoid the negative influence from the situation. For the other hand, we educators have the responsibility to solve the problems and construct more positive situation and condition for the application of individualized instruction.
Thus, it is necessary and valuable to make further research on the application of individualized instruction!
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