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In every classroom, students perform at various levels. Students come to you at different levels of learning readiness. To meet the needs of this diverse group of young minds, differentiating instruction is your ideal weapon. Differentiation in instruction is basically responding to the varying needs of your students. You don't just teach to the highs or the lows, or even to the middle. You do your best to accommodate every child in your classroom and meet them right where they are functioning.
There are four main areas where teachers can differentiate instruction to help students learn to the best of their ability:
- Learning process
- End product of learning
- Learning environment
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You can provide access to reading materials that are at varying levels. This way, students can learn the same information, but can read at their level. Some companies offer sets of books on similar subjects, each at a different level. This allows teachers to assign books that match a student's reading level. Working in groups or with a partner also allows for adaptability. You can also adapt vocabulary lists to match ability levels.
The way you present content also is critical. Using both auditory and visuals means of presenting content helps reach more students. If necessary, meeting with small groups to review concepts can also help differentiate instruction and ensure greater student success.
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Allowing students to work at centers can allow students to explore a subject or skill at their own pace. You can also include personalized sets of instructions for students as they work through centers so that their individual needs are met. Some students may need a more hands-on approach, or may just need more time to complete a particular task. Providing these allowances again is essential to student achievement.
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How will you assess whether a student has mastered a skill or acquired the necessary information from a unit? This is another area where you can differentiate instruction. One option is to grade using a rubric. This allows you so assign scores for different aspects of the assignment, allowing more room for students to show what they have accomplished. You can also let students choose from a list of options to present the information they have learned, or come up with an idea on their own. They can even work in groups on a culminating project. Anything that allows the student to share what they know in a way that meets their needs; testing is not the only way to judge if content was mastered. This is also a great opportunity to allow gifted students to shine and share some of their special abilities.
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Another way to differentiate instruction is through manipulation of the learning environment. Provide opportunities for students to grab a clip board and work on the floor if that works for them. Allow room for small groups to gather in the room and collaborate. Plan your management routines in advance so that you can allow the students to work around the room without disturbing others. Also, set up an environment where students are aware and accepting of students who learn differently.
You should also set up rules for how students get help when a teacher is busy with other students. Maybe they come up and take a number from your desk. Maybe you have them make a list on the board where they right their name down and you know where to go first when you are done with your current group. It's all about making the room work for everyone.
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Finding a Balance
The key in learning how to differentiate instruction is making it seamless. Students should not be able to pick out the "kids who do the easy work." Make sure any activities you offer have substance to them; do not provide fluff work to anyone. Preparation is your best tool. Share with other teachers in your building to see what works in their classrooms if you are struggling. Once students learn the routines and are adept on how the system works, you will be on your way to providing challenging, meaningful activities for each student in your classroom.