The term “differentiated instruction” is thrown around quite a bit in the realm of teaching theory and policy. For many teachers, already overwhelmed with ever-changing standards, decreasing budgets, and demanding schedules, it can seem like one more impossible thing to accomplish in a day. However, the good news for teachers is that differentiated instruction – meaning “customizing teaching strategies to meet students’ individual needs” – is something many teachers do without even thinking about it. Other teachers may require a little extra help making adjustments to their curriculum.
Using successful strategies for differentiated instruction can help teachers and students alike as they work together to improve the overall learning process and exceed standard expectations.
3 Strategies for Differentiated Instruction
1) Use Technology in the Classroom
One of the most important, and instantly beneficial, ways to incorporate differentiated instruction in the classroom is via technology. Technology can be used to meet students’ needs in a variety of different ways. Teachers can use blogs and online educational resources to learn more specific ways to implement differentiated instruction using technology.
Using literacy as an example: there are a plethora of online apps for literacy that work towards vocabulary development, increasing reading comprehension, spelling, teaching antonyms vs. synonyms. etc. When teachers use computer programs, almost every learning modality is used at the same time.
- Kinesthetic: students are typing and using a mouse as they interact with the learning materials. Perhaps they are even speaking, or singing, along.
- Auditory: Many programs have an audio feature that can be turned on, or off, depending on a students’ needs. Plug in a set of earphones, and auditory learners get to listen as they work.
- Visual: Computers are visual by their very nature. Combine that with interesting graphics and the visual students will get additional input as they work through individual exercises or a succession of lessons.
- Tactile: Similar to the kinesthetic learners in the class, the manual actions of typing and manipulation of the mouse, or touch screen, will help reinforce learning materials for tactile learners.
2) Offer a Variety of In-Class and Homework Assignments
Continuing along the theme of learning modalities, it is extremely important that teachers offer a variety of different types of assignments to meet students’ learning needs. If teachers see that a majority of the students are failing to turn in assignments, or are performing poorly on tests and/or assignments, it could be a sign that the teaching style has stagnated. If a teacher prioritizes a lecture or note taking style of instruction, and then assigns written work for the majority of the assignments, he or she will only be reaching a small percentage of the students’ strongest learning styles.
However, if assignments are varied between written work, group projects, physical demonstrations, creative work, etc. the teacher provides the students with more opportunities to learn – and demonstrate what they have learned – in a modality in which they excel.
3) Choreographed Group Work.
Group work is stressed so often in teaching credential programs. It is wonderful in theory: higher level students can facilitate the learning process for lower-level students; it gives students the opportunity to be responsible for their learning process work accountability, etc. However, group work is only as beneficial as the teacher’s original organization and application. Until students “Get It”, the teacher should always assign the groups to ensure there are different learning levels represented in each group. Roles should be assigned, such as “leader”, “work collector,” “note taker,” “proofreader,” etc. so students have a clear role that is suited to their abilities. Again, group assignments should be varied, or should allow students to decide as a group how they can best demonstrate their proficiency.
Once a teacher has cultivated successful strategies for differentiated instruction, it will become easier to implement them on a day-to-day basis, and modify them for each class’ needs. Every teacher wants to see his/her students succeed. The more differentiated instruction is implemented in the classroom, the more opportunities students have to learn and grow with academic confidence.
Please share your ideas/experiences regarding strategies for differentiated instruction and how they have made a difference in your classroom.