Using Differentiation in the Classroom

Author: Anicah Brooks

Differentiated Instruction

Do you remember playing with those shape-organizing toys as a child? You would place the blocks into the correct hole with the same shape. The lesson is you can’t fit a square peg into a round hole. This problem is easy to spot in a children’s game, but it’s far more difficult when applied to spheres of real life, like education.

Square Peg, Round Hole

Kids have varying needs and ways of learning. It’s clear that one approach to education isn’t going to fit every child. What are some things teachers can do to aid them in the classroom in light of this truth?

One way is to adjust how you teach based on a student’s individual needs. Once a teacher understands where a student is at as far as learning processes, or aptitudes in a certain concept, they can then change lessons to best fit the student. Schools have seen that adjusting these areas of teaching helps best meet a student’s varying needs:

  1. Content – the material taught and how it is presented.
    • Use materials at varying readability levels.
    • Use audio versions.
    • Use reading buddies.
    • Meet with small groups to re-teach an idea or skill for struggling learners, or to extend advanced learners.

  2. Process – the activities used to help students understand the content.
    • Use tiered activities through which all learners work with the same understanding, but proceed with different levels of support or complexity.
    • Provide interest centers that encourage students to explore subsets of the topic that interest them.
    • Develop personal task lists to be completed either during specified agenda time or as students complete other work early.
    • Offer manipulatives or other hands-on support for students who need them.
    • Vary the length of time a student may take to complete a task for a struggling learner.

  3. Product – how students apply what they know, or show they’ve mastered it.
    • Give students options of how to express required learning (e.g., create a puppet show, write a letter, or develop a mural).
    • Use rubrics that match and extend students’ varied skill levels.
    • Allow students to work alone or in small groups.
    • Encourage students to create their own product assignments.

  4. Environment – the classroom atmosphere or where the students learn.
    • Ensure there are places in the room to work quietly and without distraction.
    • Provide materials that reflect a variety of cultures and home settings.
    • Set clear guidelines for independent work that matches individual needs.
    • Develop routines that allow students to get help when teachers are busy with other students and cannot help them immediately.
    • Help students understand that some learners need to move around to learn, while others do better sitting quietly.

Differentiated instruction is the process of tailoring lessons to meet each student’s individual interests, needs, and strengths. Teaching this way gives students choice and flexibility in how they learn, and helps teachers personalize the learning for each child.

So, what are some ways you can apply this in a classroom? If there’s a lesson planned where kids read from a text and then write a paper about what they learned, kids who are strong readers or writers retain the information and the practice is effective. But for students whose strengths lie in other places, or that need extra help to grasp the material, this method is problematic. To prevent this, a teacher can alter their plan in a few ways:

  • Offer audio options or visual aids for students who may have a hard time with reading, or who retain information better verbally.
  • Review vocabulary words for students who may have a hard time understanding academic language.
  • Break up any lengthy reading materials into one paragraph at a time.
  • Provide options for bigger projects. Instead of just a research paper, let them pick if they’d like to do a poster project, verbal presentation, or something else.
  • Allow students to choose if they’d like to work alone, with someone else, or in a big group.
  • Make sure there is a place in the classroom where kids can read quietly, or a place they may read aloud.
  • Let students choose aspects of their environment like where or how they sit. This can mean providing different kinds of chairs, or even pillows on the floor.

No matter what you teach, altering your lesson plans can greatly benefit your students and their education. All you need to do is figure out your student’s strengths, weaknesses, or preferences. Take a survey on these topics, then adjust your lesson options to meet each felt need.

Teaching is a hard job, and you can’t guarantee you’ll do everything perfectly, but trying new techniques like these can set your students up for a bright future. While you plan your next lessons, try adjusting to see what works best for your students. For more tips check out the video “Differentiating Instruction”.

About the Author

Anicah Brooks

Anicah Brooks loves writing and is a member of Word Weavers International. She is an avid fan of historical facts and her travels to places like Australia, Spain, and Italy has made her a resource among her peers for information on international cultures. She enjoys spending time in coffee shops with her friends and family.

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