Instructional Strategies Used to Implement Differentiated Instruction
One size does not fit all when it comes to educating our children. Fair does not mean equal in the classroom. For years, teachers planned the lesson and delivered it to all the students. After extensive studies about multiple intelligences and learning styles, brain based research (and some plain old common sense), we now realize that in order to reach every child, we have to teach differently. Experts in differentiated instruction maintain that every student’s brain is as unique as a fingerprint. Additionally, we know that attitudes about learning affect learning. in other words, students that approach a task with a defeated or negative attitude will probably not excel. Sometimes this has to do with the student’s ability and sometimes it’s more about motivation. In any case, the good news is that teachers are finding ways to tap into students’ interests and giving them opportunities for choices so that they can truly take ownership over their learning and academic acheivement.
There are many ways that teachers can modify instruction to meet the needs of every student. A common misconception with differentiated instruction is that it’s about ability tracking. Student learning styles, interests, and motivation levels also have to be taken into account. Some teachers find it challenging to plan lessons that enable everyone to participate, address the specific teaching objectives, and still meet the diverse needs of every student in the classroom. One book that I recommend is Differentiating Instruction in a Whole Group Setting by Betty Hollas. This resource shows exactly how you can pre-assess to direct your instruction; allow everyone to participate in the same activities but at different levels of complexity; and offer students choices in how they show what they’ve learned.
The instructional strategies provided here can be used in any classroom to meet the individual needs of even the most diverse student groups.
Contracts provide students with choice and promote ownership of learning, time-management, and autonomy. Contracts are a great way to give students control over their own learning and grades for practice work.
Example: For spelling practice, provide students with a contract that lists a variety of activities, each with a specific point value based on the complexity of the task. Instruct the students that they must complete a certain number of tasks. Students choose the activities to complete for the week and submit the contract with the work.
Stations enable teachers to create activities that address multiple learning styles and give students opportunities to work independently or in small groups for reinforcement. Structure your stations so that each student gets to visit every station at least once. This gives students an opportunity to practice skills in a variety of ways.
Example: Create four stations that provide practice opportunities for comparing and contrasting. Use a Venn diagram pocket chart or poster created on butcher paper to give students the opportunity to practice making comparisons. Another station provides students with a comparison paragraph framework. A third station allows students to draw a picture that shows the difference between a noun and a verb. Another station provides two picture books by the same author. Students read the picture books together and discuss how they are similar and different. Each day, small groups of students visit a different station to work on comparing and contrasting in a new way.
Conferencing is an important component for differentiated instruction. Teachers that incorporate conferencing into instruction allow for student negotiation and review as well as an opportunity to identify misconceptions about content. Conferences may be one-on-one with the teacher, group conferences with the teacher and peers, or peer conferencing.
Example: Midway through a unit on the solar system, the students sign up for a conference time to discuss/demonstrate learning with the teacher. The conference could be conducted as an informal discussion, or the teacher may use a graphic organizer such as a KWL chart to structure the conference. This is a great way to review concepts already presented in class, clarify misconceptions and allow students to share areas of interest for extension.
Grouping strategies involve allowing children to work with others with similar learning styles and interests but not necessarily similar ability levels. Experts warn against grouping students solely according to ability levels as it diminishes the opportunities for children to teach and learn from one another. Depending on the assignment, students could be grouped based on readiness, interest, or learning styles. Sometimes it is necessary to use homogeneous groupings, but avoid using it all the time. Pocket charts make it easy to keeps your group assignments flexible.
Example: The students are assigned to mixed-ability groups of five to research different stages of the water cycle by gathering information from a variety of resources at appropriate reading levels. Then the groups split up so that all students with the same stage can compare notes and collaborate on what they’ve learned. The students then return to report out to the original groups. Lower-level students are responsible for only one piece of the material, but will have the opportunity to collaborate with more advanced students from other groups.
Tiered activities allow the teacher to keep the concepts and skills the same for all students but provides learning experiences that vary in terms of complexity and higher-level thinking skills. These kinds of activities really provide more advanced students with the opportunity to stretch and explore a topic. The caution for teachers is not to confine students to lower-level thinking skills. Each tier should include direction and time for application and creative thinking skills.
Example: Introduce theme as the main idea of a story. Provide direction with a short, hands-on lesson that lays the foundation for individual practice. Based on individual learning styles and ability levels, each student receives an activity that provides practice at his level: basic, intermediate, or challenging.
Problem-Based Learning (PBL) places students in the active role of identifying and solving real-world problems. PBL topics should be relevant and meaningful to the students giving them a vested interest in exploring the problem and finding possible solutions.
Example: Teach map skills through a PBL lesson by asking students to investigate an intersection or area of the community that has a high volume of traffic. Use satellite imaging and local maps to identify roads, routes, and existing traffic lights. Allow students to propose possible reasons for heavy traffic areas and/or high-accident areas and possible solutions for the problem.
Curriculum Compacting encourages teachers to assess students before beginning a unit of study. Those students that demonstrate proficiency prior to the unit do not continue to work on what they already know. Rather, they move ahead to higher-level learning experiences while the teacher provides more knowledge-based instruction for those who have not demonstrated proficiency.
Example: Introduce the concept of calculating perimeter with a brief lesson and give the students a pretest on the specific objective of the lesson. Prepare color-coded boxes (to differentiate between extension activities and remediation activities) that offer activities one step behind and one step beyond. The “basic” boxes contain cut-out shapes with each side length identified and the perimeter calculated. The “intermediate” boxes contain cut-out shapes and each side length identified.
The students are instructed to calculate the perimeter. The “challenging” boxes contain cut-out shapes. Students are challenged to measure each side length and add the numbers to calculate the perimeter. Every student is working on understanding fractions, but at varying levels of complexity.
Choice give students an opportunity to engage in the kinds of activities they enjoy and are confident with while still practicing the specific skills that you direct. Choices also give students a sense of ownership and autonomy of learning.
Example: Use the Differentiated Choice Board (Carson-Dellosa CD-158034) to provide nine different activities that students may choose to complete. Provide activities that address various learning styles, like tactile kinesthetic, auditory, verbal, or linguistic. Ask the students to select either one from each row or column or through the center block. This enables you to make sure that one specific activity is completed by every student while still giving students choices on the other two.
Schoodoodle.com offers a wide variety of instructional resources to help you most effectively differentiate instruction for your students. Browse our entire selection of Differentiated Instruction resources and download the additional free printables that we’ve provided to get you started.
And, let us know what kinds of differentiation strategies you use in your classroom. We’d love to hear from you.