We already know that all kids are not alike. They arrive at various readiness levels with various learning styles and interests. You may have one first-grader who reads little mermaid, another who cannot even recognize the letters in his/her name, or another child who excels in math but will not pick up a novel.
It is challenging to spend hours and hours working with every child individually as a teacher. In such a scenario, practising differentiation and implementing the right solution is the only choice.
Differentiation has prevailed for decades; many of us have embraced differentiation to reach 30 different children with 30 different sets of capabilities and challenges. Indeed, differentiation has grown as schools move away from sorting children into specialized classes by level. There is a broader range of children in a class, including a more significant number of disabled students. At the same time, the focus is on preparing all children for post-secondary education.
However, some teachers struggle to find the time and support to make differentiation truly work.
That is a big order, and if you are like many teachers, you may feel in the dark about what differentiation truly means for an instructional day, week, month, or year. Alternatively, you may be ready for some new techniques to try in your classroom.
Expert tips and insights you need to know about differentiation that may work for you and your students.
What Does Differentiation In Learning Mean?
Differentiation means tailoring instruction to meet individual learning needs. Whether teachers differentiate content, process, products, or the learning environment, ongoing assessment and flexible grouping make this a successful approach to instruction. It is a practice that is becoming increasingly prevalent in education. Differentiation is rooted in equity rather than equality and works on the principle that one size does not fit all. It allows for making adjustments in teaching to break down information and fit students' ability to understand and involve a variety of learning experiences.
This strategy can be different from year to year, from unit to unit, from child to child, and from lesson to lesson. True differentiation consists of constantly evaluating students and adjusting teaching accordingly. You engage students with various learning modalities and varied instructional rates and complexity. Differentiation is a student-centred classroom in which you respond to where kids are and provide choices and flexibility.
How to achieve differentiation, especially when dealing with early graders?
Well, within a topic of study, there are several ways to approach differentiation:
Assess who is ready to move to double-digit subtraction while others practice single-digit issues? When you distinguish between readiness levels, students work on the competencies they are prepared for from a developmental perspective.
What passions can children use as a goal to learn additional skills and information? You could differentiate by interest when teaching a subject like persuasive writing-a baseball fan can explain why his home team is on top, while a dinosaur lover makes a case for feathers rather than scales.
Not one size fits all. One student may understand the concept in one go; others may not. So, process differentiation is about looking at learning styles, preparation and interest.
Observe the best way for students to demonstrate proficiency in a given competency as not every learner can do the same things.
Other best ways for differentiation in learning
Start with low-prep strategies
If you are not so familiar with differentiated instruction, it is recommended to begin with a few low-prep differentiation strategies. You can incorporate a unit-by-unit lesson or start taking notes about your students each day and recording what works and what does not.
Consider all that you want your students to understand. Consult with professional education institutions on core competencies. Make sure your strategies are be based on the essential knowledge that kids need. Set up a support system while you form a differentiated class. Collaborate with colleagues within the professional learning communities to share best practices.
To achieve differentiation in the classroom, it is good to know the students first. One of the best ways is to interview your students about their favourite learning styles, how confident they feel in specific tasks and topics, and what they like doing in their spare time.
Firstly, this allows you to know what kinds of learning they like best to differentiate tasks accordingly. However, it also helps you get to know your class even better, useful at the beginning of the year.
Other than these, you can conduct a poll, which gives you valuable data on planning your lessons in the future.
Interviewing parents is good to know the class better to implement the right strategy. It can be challenging because sometimes children can be shy and not tell you when they struggle. Therefore, it is better to speak with their parents.
You can do it at the beginning of the academic year or when you deem it suitable. Another best way is to hand over an interview sheet comprising essential questions related to students and ask the parents to fill it out. This will be helpful you know the students well.
Blend direct and research-based learning Strategy
To give your students the best chance to succeed, most of your teaching should involve teacher-directed methods along with research methods. Both methods benefit from using a mixture of teacher-directed methods and inquiry-based learning.
To ensure that the whole class is brought up to the same level, you must look at the pedagogical choices you make while teaching and decide whether you make the most effective choices for bringing out the best of your students.
Also, one of the most significant variables in teaching for mastery is time; you must use it wisely. If you could begin with direct instruction for learners about a topic instead of having them discover it for themselves, you should.
By manipulative we mean, a physical object used to help teach a concept; they can either be fruits or blocks or toys if it permits a child to have a physical example of the notion taught. These are commonly used under the Concrete Pictorial Abstract approach.
Using Maths manipulatives, you can learn new ideas to create mental representations of the subject being taught. These mental representations help them embed conceptual understanding, increasing the chances of applying these ideas to other contexts.
A study by Panasuk and Beyranevand claims that those who have deep conceptual understanding perform well on standardized tests, yet the opposite does not hold. There is little evidence that a high level of success is an indicator of a thorough conceptual understanding.
Manipulating and articulating thoughts and ideas can help solidify ideas, concepts or facts and allow students to transfer this knowledge into new settings.
Find and Fill Gaps!
The primary goal of master's instruction is to ensure that no child is left behind. In an ideal world, the path of mastery would have started in reception to make the year group as homogeneous as possible.
When there is a broad range of different abilities within a class, it is doubtful that providing demanding and challenging work to the more able/ top-level students and less demanding work to students at the bottom of the range; will decrease the attainment gap in any way.
However, when differentiation is planned by giving learners different tasks based on the previous achievement, primary teachers do not reduce the gap; they increase it.
To close the gap, teachers should assess the first element of the mastery cycle, identify and address critical ideas missing in a child's knowledge of a topic. This is when you should create or use diagnostic questions designed explicitly on a range of mathematical content to identify a child's misconceptions.
Use formative assessment for better understanding
Formative assessment plays an essential role in achieving the same standard for all students. Particularly in a class with varied learning needs, knowledge of the extent of understanding between students is essential to help them improve.
The formative evaluation is repeated three times throughout the master's cycle – in the beginning, elements three and five.
- Diagnostic pre-assessment with pre-teaching
- High-quality, group-based initial instruction
- Progress monitoring through regular formative assessment
- High-quality corrective instruction
- Second, parallel formative assessment
- Enrichment or education activities
The goal of the formative assessment is to see if the student has learned something and understands what is being taught.
As education psychologist David Ausubel said in 1968, the most important factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows. Check that and teach them accordingly."
In Dylan Wiliam's latest book, Creating the Schools our Children Need, he outlines five main features of short-cycle formative assessment and what teachers can do, minute-by-minute or day-by-day, to ensure high-quality formative assessment takes place.
- Ensuring pupils know what they are meant to be learning
- Finding out what the pupils have learnt
- Providing feedback that improves the pupil's learning
- Having pupils help each other learn (group work, peer marking etc.)
- Developing pupils' ability to monitor and assess their learning.
Adapt tasks based on student learning goals
Using differentiated strategies to shake the end product as students return for assignments can also help you reach different learners. Some students are visual learners, whereas others may be learners or auditory readers. Students can be taught different ways to present their understanding of the lesson depending on how they learn the material.
Adjust the lesson content as requested by the students
The most obvious and best way of differentiating the learning process is to change the content type you use in your lessons. During a lecture, you may see that students are not paying attention to what you are teaching or lost. In such a scenario, it is essential to make them interested in learning, so switch the content up by using pictorial representations, audio recordings, videos, or even making it an interactive lesson by having students act out scenes from the play.
Remember, keeping your eyes and ears open when using differentiated instruction is essential. You will need to constantly assess how your efforts affect your students while keeping the discussion open and engagement high. Differentiated instruction takes much planning, but you will accommodate all of your students' learning styles with continuous assessment and varying strategies.