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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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Kari's picture

Part of it depends on the the level of your students. I know one way to differentiate instruction is through the use of Bloom's Taxonomy. How you would use it depends on the grade level of your students. No matter what the grade level, you are addressing different levels of thinking. The first step in Knowledge. I would differentiate instruction by asking the lower performing students to demonstrate their knowledge. For some students, you can provide them with the question ahead of time so they have time to formulate an answer. You wouldn't ask a higher level thinking student a basic question because you want students to be challenged. You would have to evaluate when students are ready to rise to the next level of questioning.

If you utilize your computer, the preparation wouldn't be bad after the first year you do it. First, type up all of the questions as sentence frames. Prior to teaching the concept/chapter/story, complete the sentence frames. You can then print them out on different colored card stock and on the other side indicate what the topic is. That way you can consistently have knowledge questions on green paper, as an example, or you could print the different levels in different colored ink.

If I know what subject(s) you teach and what grade, I would be better able to answer your question.

Katherine Roach's picture
Katherine Roach
Elementary School Teacher from Bend, Oregon

I found the book, 'Differentiated Instructional Strategies: One Size Doesn't Fit All' by Gayle H. Gregory and Carolyn Chapman to be very helpful. First, they spoke of creating an effective classroom where children feel safe, liked, and the potential to be successful learners. Then they explore evaluating students' learning and thinking styles so that we as teachers can select the best curriculum, instruction, application, and assessment to fit our students. The goal is for teachers to involve all of these learning modalities in instruction to meet the different learning styles of students. Lastly, they discuss the importance of knowing how each student is smart and review Howard Gardener's theory of multiple intelligences. The goal here was to use this information to plan instruction that will engage students, allow them to process and demonstrate their knowledge most effectively, and to use the knowledge of their unique intelligences to build confidence and plan for future goals. Centers, projects, problem-based learning, and contracts are the curriculum approached explored. Now, back to your question. How do we do all of this? Create a safe environment for learning. Know the range of students learning and thinking styles and individual strengths and interests. Provide a variety of learning modalities (auditory, visual, and tactile, and kinesthetic) in instruction and a variety of curriculum approaches grouping, centers, and projects to allow for different learning styles, personal choice, and interests. Lastly, performance assessments could be differentiated and a variety of assessments offered to gauge mastery of content. Group or individual projects, rubrics, and portfolios can be used instead of traditional multiple choice and written tests. In summary, I found this book extremely helpful with the multiple ways in which we as educators can and should differentiate instruction. This plethera of information was useful. I have found that if I use a variety of instructional, curriculum, and assessment approaches and frequently monitor their learning I can group the kids to best meet their academic needs. I know this information is pretty general, but allowing for individual differences and offering a variety of approached seems to work for me.

Lauren R's picture

I don't know if this is an issue that anyone else deals with in regards to differentiation, but I feel like in my middle school math classroom, there is often so much to cover in the small given time period, that it becomes difficult to adapt the infromation in numerous ways. I am barely able to get the information out and they are ready to leave me. I have struggled so much with appealing to the different levels and types of learning, because I feel I don't have a huge opportunity to have them work individually or on creative activities as much as I would like. It turns into the same thing daily. Also, there are such limitation to what I can adapt in our school without specifically outlining it ahead of time and having people sign off on it. I guess my question is, does anyone have any suggestions for small adjustments that can be made that I might not be thinking of?

Paula R.'s picture

Differentiation can be a very perplexing aspect for an educator. You have numerous students come through your doors, and each of them learn on a different level, and you are trying to teach 21 different ways on how to go about working the same problem, and it ends up making you feel like you have not accomplished anything. My question is: Should the education system be re-vamped, and students placed into groups of abilities-based classes? Would this not be more beneficial to the teacher and to the students? We would be able to spend more time teaching, than more time trying to accommodate for the different levels and types of learning? This can be a very two-sided debate. If this was to come about, how would this effect the students, would this be a pro or a con for their social interactions on a day to day basis? Or would could this be the answer to many a teacher's prayer?

Kim's picture

Hi Paula! You bring up an interesting point in regards to ability-based classrooms. My question to you is this - would you group based strictly on academic abilities or learning style? For example, we could group all of our second-graders into classes of kinesthetic learners, auditory learners, visual learners, etc.
There would still be a range as far as academic level, but then it would simplify the method of instructional delivery.
What do you think?

Cherie's picture

Ability based classrooms would be an interesting study. My only concern is I generally group my students heterogeneously so that my lower students can consistantly have a higher achieving peer model. This tends to help the lower level students.

I teach at a dual language school where the students predominantly are white and English is their first language. They are in English class half of their day and Spanish the other half. My problem with trying to differientiate instruction is time. Generally for reading groups I give the lower level the extra support work, the on level the on level work, and the above level the challenge work. They work independently on these things that are put in a menu while I conduct guided reading groups. In my guided reading groups I work on the same focus and strategy skill but at different levels based on their ability.

When I teach math I feel I do not have time to differientate because I only have time to deliver the lesson. I use parent helpers to pull students and work on skills they need help in.

Any suggestions out there?

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.

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