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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated Instruction

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I have been teaching for about 9 years, and every year I try to do a little bit more differentiation. This year I am ramping up my DI but it's certainly a lot of work, trying to analyze students' individual learning styles, multiple intelligences, etc. and then create different tiers of instruction and assignments. I am curious to hear from the group at Edutopia if anyone has suggestions and advice for creating a completely differentiated classroom, along with the management and preparation that goes with it.

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Lisa Prevost's picture

I attended a workshop on literacy stations over the summer. I really did not think that they would be that successful; I was wrong. I use the stations everyday. For example, I teach a mini lesson, and then I have stations based on DI for students to rotate to. This works for me because I am on a block schedule. I have 90 minutes to address the many challenges with DI. Anyway, my students love rotating, and working in groups. At the end of each day we return to whole group, and review and discuss the assignment.

Amber's picture

In my classroom during math I use a program Power Teaching. Students are put into groups of 4-6 with a good mix of learning levels in each group. Make sure though that you don't have the highest student with your lowest student, make sure they are not on opposite ends of the spectrum. For power teaching it is focused for all students to work together, students teaching one another. It's a great approach that I carry over into my other subject areas. Power teaching has the following components:
*warm up/mental math (short review where students can work in their groups or individually)
*group cooperation goal (team building)
*teach/model(whole group)
*team huddle(working as a team)
*team mastery(work individually, then check with group)
*whole group(open for questions or more teach/model)
*exit ticket(individual assessment)

For students who are faster on completing their work I make centers for review that they may work on or put out a center for a skill we will focus on next and have them try to figure it out. Another idea is to have students who have the skill mastered, have them work on a fun activity that they can handle in partners and then you can pull aside the students who are struggling to do the same activity but on a different level. This is an area I struggle with on a daily basis. I could use some ideas too!

Amy B's picture

I have to say I feel the same as Lauren when it comes to differentiation. I would love to be able to differentiate completely for my four different reading groups. The problem I am having is finding enough time to find and prepare quality activities for each group. I would need to have new activities for each group at least every 2 days. I attended both reading and writing workshop trainings over the summer, so I know what it should look like and how to set it up. My challenge is finding effective and engaging activities for each group to do so that they will not be off task while I'm working with a reading group. Where do you find your activities for seatwork or centers?

S.Mathis's picture

I'm a small group resource teacher. I have found much success when I incorporate the interest of the students. For one of my students which struggles in reading, I have began teaching a mastery level reading while using Rascal Flatts lyrics. The student knows some sight words and is beginning to blend some three syllable words.

Kim's picture

Hi Lisa - I was very interested in your post about learning stations. Can you please give us some examples of the different stations that you use, and how you differentiate them? I would love to know more about it! Also, what grade do you teach?

Sarah's picture

As I certainly agree that establishing classrooms based on student ability would be much easier for the instruction delivery, I feel that students should be exposed to others who may be functioning at higher or lower levels than themselves. I previously taught kindergarten in a low-income elementary school with close to one third of my students being English Language Learners. These children learned so much from observing their peers. What would the outcome have been had they been in a classroom of students like themselves? Having mixed abilities in one classroom can successfully promote student growth and performance. My kindergarteners are proof of that!

A suggestion for ability-based grouping would be to work with other teachers in the school. I have seen one elementary school unite the K-2 teachers and create groups for reading. This way the students are working with others at their ability level regardless of their grade level. From my understanding, this approach has been very successful.

Sarah's picture

Hi Lisa! I would also love to know more about the learning stations that you use in your classroom. In my kindergarten classroom I used stations but found it difficult to keep up with changing the materials. It seemed like the stations required so much prep time. What kinds of stations do you use? How often do you change them?

Andrea Hall's picture

I understand the dilemma of those above as a math teacher. I too am a math teacher and I am still experimenting with what works and researching myself. I love what Amber called Power Teaching and I would strive to utilize that model.

Here are some other suggestions.

According to Carol Ann Tomlinson (2001), differentiation can come by differentiating the content (what students should be able to do), the process (activities/ method of instruction) and the product(assessments).

In the math classroom the content will still stay the same but the time frame may be changed to adapt to the needs of different learners. This is when you look at the content from whole to part or part to whole depending on the students ability. This is the hardest area to address so do not start here with differentiating.

Giving students a choice of activities and changing the grouping are examples of differentiating the process. An idea would be to have a larger group of students work on a math vocabulary development activity or analyzing a standardized math test in pairs while you pull a smaller group of students and re-teach or work with them on skills you think they are lacking.

You may also look at TeacherTube.com, there are awesome videos of teachers teaching the same math concepts we do in class. Posting a link to them on your blog could also help students who need additional help find it at home.

Differentiating the process may be a good place to start.

In my estimation, this is the easiest place to start. You can give students a choice in homework assignments. In most math resource books you have choice in A, B, or C. Give students the same choice or assign them based on student ability. You can measure the homework by having students present the problem.

I hope you find this helpful. Below are references for further study.

Tomlinson, Carol Ann. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed ability classrooms. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Tomlinson, Carol Ann. (1999). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Felicia's picture

While completing my ESOL endorsement, I was introduced to a book called Making Content Comprehensible for English Learners written by Echevarria & Short. This book is a way to differentiate instruction for ELL students, but it works wonderfully with all students that are struggling. The following website has several categories that we all use as educators:www.ocmboces.org/tfiles/folder835/19%20SIOP%20Checklist.pdf
The thing I like most, is the details under each topic that we much use to differentiate. It is a good guideline to use, and if you are fortunate enough to get the book, check out all the strategies that it has. Let me know if this helpful, as well as who has heard of this method.


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