“Teachers in differentiated classrooms accept, embrace and plan for the fact that all learners bring many commonalities to school, but they also bring essential differences that make them individuals.” – Unknown
Catering to the diverse range of learning needs of students is undoubtedly one of the greatest challenges faced by the teachers of today.
It has become an expectation for teachers to ‘individualise’ the curriculum for every unique learner in our care; a task which can make us feel increasingly overwhelmed and inadequate. Most teachers can relate to the ever-increasing demand to differentiate; however, despite our best intentions, it is sometimes difficult to implement best practice in our classrooms.
While differentiation may seem like an insurmountable task at times, there are many simple strategies teachers can draw upon to ensure our students’ needs are being addressed. Five such strategies have been outlined below.
1. Use a variety of instructional methods to deliver content
In days gone by, the traditional ‘chalk and talk’ instructional method was the standard means by which content was delivered to students. The teacher would talk and write notes on the board; the students would listen and copy down the important information.
In a modern-day classroom, direct instruction is but one of a wide range of instructional methods available in the teacher’s tool belt. While some students indeed learn best through listening; others prefer talking, moving or using technology. Provide students with opportunities to learn through a variety of experiences, such as collaborative discussions, hands-on activities and online resources.
2. Allow students to present their learning in a variety of formats
Have you ever known someone who seemed to have an extensive level of knowledge during a conversation, but could never perform well in written exams? Perhaps you might know someone who is a talented wordsmith, but struggles to speak with confidence in front of others?
When assessing the learning of our students, it would serve us well to remember that we all express ourselves in different ways. While some students may construct written texts clearly and with confidence; others may prefer to express their learning more visually, or even kinesthetically.
Where possible, provide your students with a number of ‘product’ options when it comes to presenting what they have learned. By insisting that students present their learning in one way only, we are limiting their ability to truly demonstrate their knowledge.
3. Use student-driven tasks where possible and appropriate
Providing tasks that are student-driven enables students to take control and ownership of their learning.
One such example of a student-driven learning experience is an open-ended task. Open-ended tasks can be embedded across all areas of the curriculum. They promote multiple approaches, multiple outcomes and multiple solutions, allowing students to engage with the curriculum at their own individual level. There is no ‘right way’ to complete an open-ended task, creating opportunities for student creativity and individuality to flourish.
Another example of a student-driven learning experience is an inquiry-based task. Students pose inquiry questions about a particular topic, then research and present their findings. Inquiry-based tasks may also be integrated across all curriculum areas; but lend themselves particularly well to Science and the Humanities.
4. Provide relevant, meaningful enrichment
Providing additional ‘busy’ work to fast finishers has always been a go-to strategy for teachers; however, do these students really need to spend more time on a concept they have most likely mastered?
In most instances, students who finish tasks quickly and effortlessly will benefit very little from receiving more of the same work. So how can these students be adequately challenged so that they continue to feel motivated and engaged?
Some suggestions include:
- introducing new tasks which contain more sophisticated or accelerated content
- adapting tasks to make them more challenging or to promote higher-order thinking
- encouraging students to pursue individual interests within the content being taught
- allowing students to demonstrate their learning by peer-tutoring others.
5. Provide appropriate, targeted support
The level and nature of support required by less confident students will vary from student to student and from task to task. It is important to choose the most appropriate support strategy for each learning experience.
In some instances, minimal intervention will be sufficient in enabling a student to successfully complete a task; however, on other occasions, significant support may be required. So how can these students be adequately supported so that they feel confident in their ability to succeed?
Some suggestions include:
- simplifying the task, breaking it down into small, achievable steps
- removing additional pressures, such as time restraints
- providing scaffolds or concrete materials for students to manipulate
- reteaching key concepts with the assistance of peers or support staff.
Individualising the curriculum we deliver in our classrooms can, at times, be perceived as an unrealistic ideal. By making a few small changes to our instructional methods and the learning experiences we provide, teachers can come one step closer to truly catering for the individual learning needs of our students.
For further examples of how to plan your curriculum with these differentiation strategies in mind, browse through some of the unit and lesson plans available on the Teach Starter website.
Do you have any differentiation strategies to share that could benefit other teachers? Let us know in the comments below!