What is differentiated instruction? How do teachers differentiate instruction with a classroom full of diverse learners? Read on to find out.
If you’ve visited my blog before, you may have noticed that differentiating instruction is an important topic to me. I often talk about ways to differentiate material and provide helpful tips. New teachers may find themselves wondering, “What is differentiated instruction anyway?”
What is Differentiated Instruction?
Differentiated instruction is when a lesson is tailored to meet more than one academic level. We can’t expect our students to all be on the same level, so why would we design our lessons that way? Differentiated instruction allows us to zero in more closely on individual needs. Through tiered lessons, we are better able to understand our students abilities and needs.
Why is Differentiated Instruction Important?
Differentiated instruction allows us to give students the support they need instead of lumping them together in one big group. Smaller groups make it easier to see who has mastered the lesson goals and has acquired the skills to move on.
Larger class sizes make it more difficult to zero in on individual student needs. In a large class, it’s easier for a student to slip between the cracks. A quiet child who hasn’t mastered the material can easily go unnoticed until a formal assessment. While working with a large group, it’s difficult to zero in on students who need extra support or enrichment.
Why Don’t Teachers Differentiate Instruction All The Time?
Breaking the class up into smaller groups allows us to provide differentiated content at various academic levels. Most teachers know that differentiating instruction is a good practice. So why doesn’t everyone do it?
Teachers feel like they don’t have the time to meet the needs of every individual student. They’re busy and stressed. Teachers are overworked and underpaid. They barely have time to catch their breath. Teacher tired is a real thing. And there’s always some new “best practice” being pushed on them.
As a result, they “teach to the middle” and call it a day. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, but there’s room for improvement.
Teaching to the Middle
What does it mean to “teach to the middle?” Basically, it’s when a teacher designs their lesson plans for the average student. Most teachers teach to the middle out of necessity. Teaching to the middle has been the go- to solution for teachers since the earliest school days.
Honestly, teaching to the middle isn’t a bad approach since it does accommodate most of the class. After all, most students do fall into the average range.
But what about the students outside of the average range? When we teach to the middle, higher and lower achieving students get left behind. Gifted students need more challenging activities while lower performing students require additional support.
Improving the “Teach to the Middle” Approach
Designing your lessons for “the middle,” or the average student population, is a great place to start. To accommodate individual needs better, just take that approach a bit further.
Try thinking of how you can make different versions of the same lesson. Nothing crazy, no dramatic changes, just slightly altered versions of the same lesson. How can you push your gifted students to delve deeper into the topic? What kinds of supports can you add to aid students in need of extra help?
Break your class into three groups and try working on the lesson with these different versions. One way to do this is to have all three groups work on it at the same time. Another option is to rotate your groups and have them work on the lesson one at a time while the other two groups do independent work, silent reading, or center activities. I like implementing differentiated instruction via centers.
More Differentiated Group Activities
For your more advanced students, think of how you can extend the concepts of that activity. Is there more information on that topic that they can explore more deeply? Is there a project that they can work on? How can they apply the concepts and skills at a more challenging level?
For students in need of additional support, think about how you can break up the lesson’s concepts into smaller parts. Can you make activities to address these smaller parts?
A Freebie to Make Differentiation a Breeze
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Keep teaching. Keep learning.
~Christy from Exceptional Thinkers
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