“Differentiated instruction” has been a hot topic in education for many years. There are workshops and books dedicated solely to helping teachers differentiate their lessons, assignments, and assessments.
To say it simply, differentiated instruction is providing students the type of instruction they need based on their level of readiness (Vygotsky, 1986) and their learning profile (Sternberg, Torff, & Grigorenko, 1998).
It can feel like an overwhelming task. How does a teacher meet the individual needs of all of their students in a single lesson?
There isn’t an easy answer to this question. Every teacher knows that each child, each class, each year is very different. Even still, there are a few easy things you can do TODAY to differentiate in your classroom.
- Start small.
Differentiation is not difficult. Change is. Teachers are creatures of habit and making what feels like a radical change in your classroom can feel scary. Start with just one subject. If that feels overwhelming, start with just one lesson. Once you feel comfortable with that change, continue to branch out. Any amount of differentiation, even just a small amount, will make a positive difference.
- Get to know you students.
This may seem like a no brainer, but it isn’t always easy. Start small by carving out a few minutes to pull a student during a quiet time. This can be during silent reading or another quiet activity. Speak with them about what they are reading, what they are interested in and what is going on in their lives. Not only does this help you to assess how your student is doing, it also helps to create a bond, which is vital for a student to succeed in the classroom.
- Engage students in project based learning.
Project based learning allows students to utilize their creativity and explore their own interests. It also gives the teacher the opportunity to see a student’s areas of strength and areas of need.
- Let them choose!
Allow students to choose their own “required reading” books. Give parameters that fit your unit. For example, if you are teaching a unit on historical fiction, allow students to choose their own historical fiction book (on their reading level, of course) instead of assigning one book to the entire class. The students will be excited to have a little bit of independence and be much more invested in their reading. It also keeps struggling students from receiving a book that is too difficult for them. It also ensures that advanced students receive books that will challenge them. Remember, all students need to be challenged, but the challenges will not all look the same!
- Assess. Assess.
Assessment is the most effective way to determine each student’s need. Remember that every assessment doesn’t have to be a time-consuming test. Something as simple as a 3-minute exit ticket will tell you a lot about what a student knows and what they need to learn. There are a lot of great ways to assess; what is most important is that you assess often.
Differentiation is a great way to meet the needs of your students and it is easy to start today!
Sternberg, R. J., Torff, B., & Grigorenko, E. L. (1998). Teaching triarchically improves student achievement. JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY, 90(3), 374-384. EJ 576 492.
Vygotsky, L. (1986). THOUGHT AND LANGUAGE. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Hamilton, John K. (Jan 17, 2007). Untitled [photo]. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Navy_070117-N-7918H-009_Guidance_counselor_Elizabeth_Prince_facilitates_an_Anchors_Away_program_for_children_at_Christopher_Farms_Elementary,_Virginia_Beach,_Va.jpg.