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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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Tanesha Finley's picture
Tanesha Finley
7th grade math, Mendenahll, MS

This is my second year of teaching, and since last year this is all I been hearing," You need to differentiate your instruction based on ability". This is fine, if someone would sit down with me and show me how its done and to go through a class setting with me to show me how to actually differentiate my teaching based on learning styles. Last year, I taught High School, and my smallest class was 23, with IEPs in every class; to me differentiating my instruction then was easier because I had different level Math Worksheets based on learning ability and I used peer tutoring because I had higher level learners in my class. This year, I teach middle school, and my students are grouped based off Tier levels (according to how they scored on the State Tests), this is okay but all the students are not at the same ability level still, and I find this way even more difficult because you have the class that 'THINKS' they know everything, and you have the class that no matter how you break the information down they don't understand anything. The lower achieving class is most difficult because when one student doesn't get it, he or she may start being negative and misbehaving in the class, causing a domino effect amongst the other students; I definitely would love some strategies on differentiating instruction.

Brandon's picture

Hi Lisa,
I am currently a fifth grade teacher and are beginning this school year experimenting with the ELA stations model posed in the book "Practice with Purpose" by Debbie Diller. Have you had a chance to read this book before? If not, I would highly recommend it. Diller's book is primarily about ELA stations related to generating differentiated learning that is highly motivating for students in the elementary setting.

The students take on the role of generating the activities that are put into the stations which creates the motivational aspect. Now obviously it does take some teacher guidance to move the ideas in the correct direction and weave out the inappropriate suggestions.

Your comments regarding learning stations made me think of the link between the two. Do your learning stations apply to only ELA or do they also incorporate other subjects (that is if you are an elementary teacher)?

Amy Farmer's picture

I have really enjoyed reading your ideas on DI. I am currently teaching AP Statistics and am finding the need to differentiate. I have a surprisingly wide range of abilities that I was not expecting. I like the idea of learning stations with different levels of questioning. Does anyone have any other ideas for a higher level math course that has worked for you?

Ashley's picture

I love to implement Differientiated Instruction in my classroom. I feel that my students are actually having fun while learning. At my school we have just recieved training on the strategy. I would like to give an idea to those of you who teach reading. I teach first grade and my team and I brainstormed some ideas to use Differientiated Instruction using the Principals Book of the Month. First, I gave each student a survey to find out personal expereinces or desires they have to learn at school. Second, we came up with four different ideas to use in centers focusing on the book A Fine Fine School by Sharon Creech. I wrote up a "menu" for my students to choose which center they would like to go to. This was my first time allowing certain students to be together, but you should have seen the excitement going on in my classroom. They were excited by the freedom of choice being allowed. All teachers know that you have certain kids that can not work together so I was a little nervous about this idea. The centers that were created for the DI lesson were the Book Jacket(students created their own version of the Book Cover and Story), Chain of events(Chain/link seqencing beginning,middle and end), Timeline(the order of what happened in the story) and Map of the Setting(various artsy materials and students designed the setting of the story). After explaining how to do each center the students were in their centers working so well together and each had a smile on their face even the ones I was worried about. They loved it! A student even said This is Fun! The DI lesson was very beneficial to my students and our classroom environment. I am already thinking of what this weeks DI lesson will be about. Any creative ideas that some of you have done?

S. Session's picture

I am a high school biology teacher. I have struggled with finding ways to differentiate my lesson plans for all four years of my teaching career. The time constraints in high school classes make it so difficult to differentiate lesson plans and insure effectiveness as well as efficiency. My classes are 52 minutes long and 40% of my lessons are supposed to be labs. I am getting overwhelmed with grading student work and creating new lesson plans. Any new and exciting lessons for biology classrooms that help me maintain my sanity?

Amy's picture

Thank you very much for these sites! I will check them out and hopefully have something to share with my fellow teachers.

Brian Stayte's picture

I have two approaches with differentiation. Prior to sharing them, let me preface that I am all-about meeting students where they are and using a multitude of teaching approaches in my classroom. It is difficult, as a high school math teacher, but I am constantly trying new approaches with the hope of reaching one more student.

My first approach, which is obviously more age appropriate for high schoolers, is that I talk to them about the adult world. I try to prepare them for what is beyond high school. Not to be harsh, but to be real. One of those talks revolves on how the world doesn't care about ADD or learning disabilities, about home situations or medical concerns. The world is worried about productivity. An employee with ADD doesn't get to come to work 30 minutes late, or have less of a work load than a colleague. He is expected to get the job done. By speaking with them about the reality of adulthood, I can then open up a discussion about how healthy adults learn to manage their deficiencies, and maximize their assets. It's called leveraging. I use myself as an example, often times, in that I have a medical condition that causes me to really have to work hard to manage my weight. Other people start a new year's workout routine and drop 20 pounds like it was yesterday's garbage.

Unfortunately, school does not always model real life for students. For example, if we truly believe that students learn at different paces and different ways, then why do we give standrdized tests and common assessments? Why aren't our state graduation assessments more project based, and less paper and pencil? Why do we only go to school 36 of 52 weeks a year? Why do we still operate on an August to June schedule?

At one high school where I worked, we put some of these beliefs in action. We "opened" up the gradebook, allowing students to work at their own pace through the curriculum. They didn't have to take the "chapter 1 test" next Friday, but when I decided they were ready. They were responsible for progress, and keeping a reasonable pace, and I was responsible for mnaging them in order to get them to the end by the end of the semester. Due to state grading requirements we still had to give them a semester grade, but there was greater flexibility within the 18 week term by not dividing it into 6-week grade or 9-week terms. Students naturally grouped together by pacing, and it was very enjoyable. It required letting go of some control, and a hightened level of parent communication, but it was effective.

Tami Lupton's picture

Cherie, You brought up some good points, and good suggestions. I have also grouped students so that the higher students can help the students who are struggling more. One concern that I have, though, is that in some classrooms, I have seen the higher children working to help the lower students, and they are not challenged at their levels. Therefore, the lower students benefit, but the higher ability students almost get forgotten or left behind. I feel that, as teachers, we have to challenge all of the students, and make sure they all are learning. have you found that to be the case?

I also agree that time is the major issue. Reading groups are easier to differentiate, and it seems that I work mine close to the same way you do. I do occasionally make the groups based on an interest in a book, regardless of the abilities of the students so that they work with students of different abililties. This allows for wonderful opportunities for all of the students, and really seems to challenge all of them.

Math is probably one of the most challenging areas to differentiate. At our school, we did break the students into ability groups just for math. I think this really helped the higher level students move faster, and go more in-depth into topics, while allowing the lower students more time to really comprehend the topics being taught. I think that, at least for math, this really helped all of the students, and it made it much easier for the teachers, as well. I really feel this was a win-win in this situation. I also really appreciated your suggestion of using parent volunteers to pull students out for extra practice. I am going to implement that more in my classroom.

Mandy's picture
9th grade biology/special .ed teacher

I do agree with you, but as you know if you can teach it then you truely know it. I can say this is true as a teacher and a student the higher learner can benefit by teacing or explaining it to others. As a teacher as I started teaching my students the areas of biology I truely learned the material at a deeper level than just takeing a test. I believe if you can write, explain an teach it you truley know it.

Bruce Specht's picture

My discipline lends it self to many differnt learnig styles. I offer students choices and allow thme to have input and ownership of the class. The hardest concept to get across is how what we teach relates to real world living. I'm trying something new in consumer ec. The students (in class) are being treated as if they have a job and are in school they are earning a slary (points) that will allow them to buy a grade at the qaurter and the semester.

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