Differentiated Instruction: How to Reach Every Student in the Classroom
Differentiated instruction, also known as differentiated learning, involves techniques that will allow students to acquire content, comprehend ideas, and utilize teaching materials by the avenues that are best for them. Regardless of students' differences in abilities, this type of instruction allows all students in a classroom to learn effectively.
- Why is Differentiated Instruction Important?
- Differentiated instruction is:
- Differentiated instruction is not:
- Pre-Assessment to Get to Know Your Students
- Teaching Strategies: Differentiated Instruction Requires a Full Repertoire
- Provide a Variety of Instructional Activities
- Consider Assessment and Evaluation Strategies
Why is Differentiated Instruction Important?
The bottom line of differentiated instruction is that teachers must put the students first. Instead of focusing the classroom around the needs of the teacher or the state or district teaching standards, a classroom with differentiated instruction is about student-centered learning. Teachers must be open to flexibility and change on a daily basis. They must be willing to take risks and try new things. While not all strategies will work, you won't know until you try. Teachers must take time to evaluate their teaching strategies, assignments, and evaluations on a regular basis.
Differentiated instruction is:
• Student-centered with learning centers that are geared to student preferences, interests, and academic levels.
• Multiple, tailored assignments for units across multiple academic subjects
• Regular choices for student assignments and evaluations
• Allowing students to progress at their own pace
• High expectations for all students with a required high level of thinking but a permitted range of responses
• Regular opportunities for students to explore fields of personal interest
Differentiated instruction is not:
• Requiring students who are further ahead to teach material to students who have not mastered it yet
• Assigning more work to students who are at higher academic levels
• Focusing on student weaknesses and not taking their strengths into account
• Giving all students the same amount and type of work the majority of the time
There has been research done about brain-based learning, learning styles and multiple intelligences, and authentic assessment. Brain-based research has led us to understand the many influences that effect learning. Learning styles research helps us understand how students receive and/or process information. Multiple intelligences are important to understand when designing differentiated instruction that will meet students' specific needs. Finally, authentic assessment measures ensure that students are tested on what they were taught and hopefully what they learned. The research on all of these topics supports the theory of differentiated learning.
This research is supported by many notable figures within the field of education including Lev Vygotsky, Jerome Bruner, and Howard Gardner, who developed the theory of multiple intelligences.
Pre-Assessment to Get to Know Your Students
Before you start a new school year, do some pre-assessment by talking to last year's teachers about your new students' prior learning, past experiences, capabilities, and more. As the school year gets started, take the time to get to know your students informally. Consider interviews/conferences, interest inventories, and open-ended questionnaires about their learning preferences.
Many aspects of this type of instruction require less structure than traditional classroom teaching styles. You will need to determine the level of structure that is most appropriate for your current group of students and their learning styles and preferences. Again, the key component of flexibility comes into play. What worked last year may not work this year. Be open to changing for your students.
Teaching Strategies: Differentiated Instruction Requires a Full Repertoire
As you plan teaching strategies for differentiated learning, keep your state and district teaching standards at hand. Even though your students are your first focus, it is still important to be teaching the required standards.
Consider incorporating direct teaching, cooperative learning, inquiry-based learning, and information processing strategies into your lessons. There is a time and a place for each of these types of teaching. Providing a variety of styles will keep student interest and motivation at a high level.
Additionally, consider Bloom's Taxonomy as you plan lessons. Coordinate the student work appropriately. For example, for a reading assignment, some students will be at a comprehension level with the material, while others will be at the analysis level, while still others will be evaluation level. You can provide differentiated instruction for an entire lesson or differentiate through small group activities after a main instructional lesson.
Provide a Variety of Instructional Activities
Having a strong background knowledge of your students' preferences and interests will enable you to provide instructional activities that are interesting and motivating for them. For example, if you have a group of students who enjoy working on the computer, consider online games for academic reinforcement. Look for activities across different academic subjects and look for games that tailor to students' specific levels so that students are working at their own learning levels.
Consider Assessment and Evaluation Strategies
Finish the process of differentiated instruction by differentiating your assessment and evaluation strategies as needed. Consider offering multiple assessment options so that students can choose methods that will be successful for them. For example, when completing a science experiment evaluation, one student may prefer to draw a picture while another student may prefer to write a couple paragraphs while yet another student may prefer to verbalize his findings. Additional evaluation strategies may include rubrics, portfolios, knowledge mapping, and performance-based assessment.
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