Student differentiation is one of the most essential aspects of teaching, being able to reach all learners at their level and working from there. The key to effective differentiation lays in teacher-student relationships. Knowing your students, understanding their differences and giving them choices that appeal to them individually will make differentiation meaningful.
Most sources agree that there are at least three areas or levels of differentiation; content, process, and product. Some sources also add the learning environment as a fourth area where differentiation can take place.
This address the level of readiness students have to any given subject matter.
How would you know what level they are at? Base assessments and personal information quizzes at the start of the school year/unit/semester. Looking at previous records and asking students lead-in questions about any given topic.
- Knowledge 0-39%: Sometimes they might have no prior knowledge of the content, and we would have to ensure teaching work from the ground up. Using Bloom’s taxonomy and focusing on remembering and understanding.
- Knowledge 40-69%: Others might have a basic level of knowledge of the work but are by no means masters. These students need practice and move up in Bloom’s pyramid applying and analyzing knowledge.
- Knowledge 70- 100%: These students might have mastery of the content but still need to take part in and learn more during the lesson. They would start to evaluate and create, the content using critical thinking skills during the lesson.
The process takes into account the different learning styles of all your students and helps you to plan how you will deliver the content in a way that best suits their learning style.
Student learning styles can range from visual, auditory, written format to more hands on styles like kinesthetic and movement based. Differentiation during this part can include textbooks, audiobooks, interactive assignments and discussion corners.
It also includes how students are grouped during the class and whether they need 1-on-1 interaction with the teacher or whole class instruction would be sufficient.
How will students show you what they have learned at the end of the lesson/unit? What will their assessment look like?
This part of differentiation is where students create output. They choose an option given by the teacher that suits their learning style or create their own unique option for assessments. This can be formal tests, oral reports, building a model, making a video presentation the options are endless. The important part is for the teacher to set clear, understandable guidelines for students to follow during this part.
The learning environment can be divided into two parts; Psychological and physical. This refers to classroom management techniques and setup. Having a flexible classroom set up that can optimize groupings and individual work according to all the students learning styles.
Not one student is the same when it comes to learning and so no single instruction of content can be similar. As mentioned earlier in the blog student levels of readiness will differ and we need to ensure we have a lesson prepared that meet all their needs as well as the needs of any student with special needs.
At the start of the school year giving all students a baseline assessment will help determine what your students’ general readiness is. You will see that Jimmy has mastered certain work in math and is below average in reading. Sarah might have high readiness across the board and Sally might be failing or just average. Along with this you can give students an interests questionnaire or reach out to parents if possible to learn more about them and their learning styles. Jimmy might be a visual kinesthetic learner. Sarah might need audio and Sally is a little shy and struggles to concentrate, but enjoys listening to stories and drawing. Once you have completed this you can start differentiating their lessons and how you would present it.
One way to do this is preparing a mini lesson that covers the essentials of the lesson’s objectives. If there is a student with disabilities this needs to be worked into the lesson plan too. eg. seated close to the teacher, using a loud but friendly voice. Explaining the work visually, orally and any other available method that suits the content. After the mini lesson students can break into groups and work on the lesson at their levels. Some students can be paired with the teacher to work in a small group in this case Sally. While others can work on basic worksheets/computer programs that will challenge them at their level, Jimmy and Sarah. During this keeping in mind, the students learning style will be helpful in presenting and doing the work. Some might need to listen to an audio recording, or watch a video or work through a textbook and you would need to prepare this.
After the mini lesson students can break into groups, pairs or individually and work on the lesson at their levels. Some students can be paired with the teacher to work in a small group in this case Sally. While others can work on basic worksheets/computer programs/text books etc. that will challenge them at their level, Jimmy and Sarah. During this keeping in mind, the students learning style will be helpful in presenting and doing the work. Some might need to listen to an audio recording, or watch a video or work through a textbook and you would need to prepare this.
When we assess these students at the end of a unit the same differentiation needs to be applied. Giving them 3-4 options that you have created that will show their mastery and understanding of the work and letting them choose one they like most. Or they can choose their own option and allow you to”give it a thumbs up or modification” by a deadline. Some options might be to build different fractions using clay/legos, drawing or illustrating fractions on a poster or presenting an oral presentation to the class/teacher. Students with special needs also need modifications on the differential, allowing for more time or not letting spelling count or making the classroom accessible and keeping a positive environment.
- Differentiating in Math Using Computer Games. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2017, from https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/differentiating-in-math
- McCarthy, J. (2014, July 23). 3 Ways to Plan for Diverse Learners: What Teachers Do. Retrieved April 24, 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/differentiated-instruction-ways-to-plan-john-mccarthy
- Rick’s Reading Workshop: Overview. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2017, from https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/reading-workshop-overview
- What is Differentiated Instruction? Examples of How to Differentiate Instruction in the Classroom. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2017, from http://education.cu-portland.edu/blog/teaching-strategies/examples-of-differentiated-instruction/