The basic premise behind differentiating instruction is that the teacher needs to find an efficient way to make a connection with every student in the classroom, and then lead him or her to the educational objective they have in mind for the class. This doesn’t mean teaching a different lesson for each child though. That would burn anyone out very quickly.
That sounds great, but a teacher faced with accomplishing this task wants some differentiated instruction examples. What are the specific things an educator can do to provide the best learning experience for every student? This post does not claim to offer all of the answers, but hopefully it will get you started down the path to taking a new look at the possibilities for differentiation in your classroom. If some of these examples inspire you to come up with new and creative ways to teach your class, that is good enough for me. I’m sure that I’ll add more posts in the future that include specific differentiated instruction strategies.
To be honest, there are many different ways to go about addressing the needs of learners. That is why there are books filled with ideas, lessons and strategies. Teachers have been differentiating instruction for years without giving it any type of label. They just thought of it as finding ways to get through to the kids who were not responding well to the lessons as they were being taught. If you teach, chances are that you have already been differentiating to some extent already.
A basic premise of differentiation is accepting that different people learn in different ways. To this end, you may want to look for different ways to present material to the class. Some students will respond well to reading a story, but others may appreciate the chance to use auditory channels. In other words, don’t just assume that students will “get” material simply by reading it.
Some might respond better by hearing the material being presented in a recorded format. Along these same lines, teachers can emphasize that there can be different ways or paths that all end up at the “right” answer. I found and included the video of a first grade math lesson you see here because it shows the teacher working with the whole group and then breaking them down to address specific areas of need. I liked the example of counting money as a way to achieve a desired result by a variety of means. Recognizing and presenting different paths to the same goal is a differentiated instruction strategy that teachers can make use to show students that sometimes there is more than one “right” answer to a problem. I’m including the related videos as well because they include some more great examples and ideas to get you started with your differentiated instruction.
I mentioned in another post that adding a video component to teaching is gaining in popularity. This can include making videos for your students to watch or actually allowing the students themselves to make videos. It is an activity that is almost sure to gain the students’ interest. New technology has made differentiating with video much less of a hassle than it once was.
You might also want to consider how students prefer to learn. Some students enjoy working with partners or small groups, but many like to work alone. It is not unusual to find that students who work at an accelerated rate like to get things done by themselves. Even so, many are still happy and excited by the idea of being an “expert” and helping others. Consider putting them to use as a resource in the classroom. You may have to give them some instruction regarding how to guide and help without simply giving away answers, but this small bit of training can be worth it if you gain a quality peer helper.
One very common challenge in the differentiated classroom is how to deal with students who work at different speeds. You do not want to stress out the students who work at a slower pace, but you cannot afford to have faster students simply waiting around all day either. Consider having your faster learners take a more in depth approach to whatever the topic at hand happens to be. At the elementary level, these students are often thrilled by getting the opportunity to present the new information they have acquired to the rest of the class. Don’t forget though that you should also make the most of mixed ability groupings in your classroom.
Remember that there are many ways for students to demonstrate what they have learned. A written or oral report may be fine for some students , but others may do better if they are encouraged to be creative. You may be surprised at what some of your more artistic and imaginative students come up with when they are given the opportunity to decide how to show what they have learned.
For some projects, it is a good idea to come up with rubrics to fit what each child should be accomplishing and learning in class. There are free rubric creators available on the Internet, but you can certainly create them on your own or take them from a book if you like. You can find a very nice free one here.
I hope this has helped a few people out. I’ll keep adding ideas as they come, but please feel free to submit any original ideas that you are willing to share. The teaching community has a lot to offer to each other. Unfortunately, teachers often spend most of their time locked away with their own class and don’t take advantage of all of the possibilities collaboration offers. If you send in original ideas for differentiating in the classroom, I’ll be happy to post them here. You might also enjoy reading Carol Ann Tomlinson’s definition of differentiated instruction, but I hope you’ll come right back!