Differentiated instruction is a useful method of educating students. Teachers observe and assess students’ strengths and areas for growth, and use that knowledge to provide each student with instruction and tasks to improve and strengthen their learning.
Students who are offered more options during the learning process demonstrate more responsibility for their own education. It also provides them with an opportunity to select the learning materials and activities that will keep them the most engaged, thus producing the best learning outcomes. Here we’ll take a look at what differentiated instruction is, its roots, and how to apply it in your classroom.
What is Differentiated Instruction?
Differentiated instruction is based on students learning differently. This approach aims to apply instruction in a way that meets the unique needs of each student by presenting information in multiple methods of delivery.
By designing and delivering differentiated instruction, teachers can present the same material to students in different ways. The same lesson plan may have multiple components that can reach students at varying levels of ability and varying styles of learning.
This type of instruction is deeply rooted in history. Historically, when one teacher taught multiple grade levels, differentiated learning was necessary to reach students in all grades. The introduction of achievement tests in 1912, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1975, and the No Child Left Behind Act in 2000 have all encouraged differentiated and skill-based learning to help address the needs of every child, not just the “average student.” This means addressing the needs of students who are falling behind academically, and those who are excelling and require greater challenges.
Benefits and Challenges of Differentiated Instruction
Applying differentiated instruction can be challenging for teachers who are already struggling with a strenuous workload, especially since this form of education requires much more work during the lesson planning process. Adopting this type of learning without adequate professional development resources can be tough, and the benefit versus the increased and necessary prep time has not yet been adequately documented.
But available research does show that differentiated instruction is effective for students of all abilities. Allowing students more autonomy over their learning process leads to greater engagement and fewer discipline problems that can stem from boredom or frustration with the learning method or environment.
Assessing the Classroom
In order to deliver effective differentiated instruction, teachers must first assess their students. Given that this type of instruction is meant to target different learning styles, it’s important to understand how to group students together by learning style, ability, or shared interest. This requires assessment, practice, and continuous adjustments to lesson plans to maintain an optimal learning environment.
How to Differentiate Instruction
Differentiated learning is all about using multiple methods to achieve the same outcome. For the best results, lessons can be combined with group discussion and activities, practice, and allowing students to learn from each other. Differentiation can be provided through the classroom content, process of teaching, learning environment, and student output.
School district and state educational standards are key, so it’s important to ensure that those elements are retained in any modified lesson plan.
Because each student may have different levels of familiarity with the content presented, it can be helpful to design activities that cater to each level of understanding. For example, breaking up activities into ones that focus on understanding and memorizing concepts (for those with lower levels of understanding), and ones that task students with applying what they’ve learned (higher levels of understanding).
There are many styles of learning that require different teaching processes. Differentiated instruction should be flexible enough to address this by offering one-on-one instruction, individual work, pair work, and group work. Lesson content should also be provided in varying formats, including text for visual and word learners, audio books and lectures for auditory learners, and interactive assignments for kinesthetic learners.
Student output is another area where varying learning styles are evident. Some students will excel in producing output through projects, some through testing, some through written or oral reports, and some through graphic representations. To make the best use of a differentiated instructional style, create lesson plans that have optional outputs; allow the student to choose their preferred method for optimal learning.
The classroom environment is an imperative part of the learning process. Differentiated instruction pairs best with a classroom that allows for ample flexibility. Arrangements should support individual, quiet learning as well as social group work and auditory exploration.
As teachers become more accountable for their student’s academic growth and achievement, differentiated instruction takes on a new level of importance. How have you applied differentiated instruction in your classroom?
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