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Concentrate on Key Points
As more and more students are included in the general education curriculum, teachers need to find ways of meeting the individual learning needs of all the students. By understanding how to differentiate instruction in mixed ability classrooms, teachers can adapt their existing curriculum to meet the vast majority of needs. This can happen for students both with, and without. disabilities. Let’s take a look at some off the options.
One of the easiest things you can do is target your instruction so that you are only teaching the key points of a lesson. Some teachers refer to this as removing the “fluff" from the curriculum. We all know that there are things we like to teach, but is the information really necessary? Take a deeper look into your curriculum and see what parts can be removed. For students with learning disabilities, for example. it may not be necessary to address higher level thinking skills. Instead, focus on teaching them the basics that they will definitely need to know to demonstrate mastery of the standard.
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Slow it Down or Speed it Up
Another option for students with disabilities is to slow down your curriculum. If you really want your students to master the concepts that you are teaching them, then it may be necessary to work at a slower pace. Use achievement to dictate learning and lesson planing. If you match their learning speed, you will better meet their needs.
For students needing more of a challenge, you could consider actually moving at a faster pace. This is sometimes referred to as "compacting" the curriculum. Test students at the beginning of a new unit to determine what they already might know, and what they still need to learn. By spending less time covering skills which have already been mastered, you will be able to move through the curriculum at a faster pace.
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Change it Up
The way you present the curriculum is another method in which you can differentiate. Teachers can sometimes get into a routine of presenting the same material in the same way - no matter what the needs of their students. For example, a teacher may be used to reading notes and having students copy them. This, however, may not meet the needs of all students. Make sure that you routinely present the material in order to meet the needs of different types of learners, such as, visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.
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Try Different Methods of Assessment
There are some additional things that you can do in the classroom to assist in meeting the individual learning needs of all students. This includes varying the types of assessments you use. Change tests so that students are only tested on major things, or require less repetition. Employ oral assessments in addition to traditional paper-and-pencil exams. Use a variety of multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, true and false, and essay questions. Finally, don't forget to give the students adapted copies of notes to help them focus their studying as they prepare for exams.
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As you can see there are several ways that you can do curriculum differentiation in your classroom. While you may be a little hesitant to make changes, knowing how to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms will allow students to learn better. For additional assistance, consider co-planning with a special education teacher. They are experts at differentiation, and will be more than willing to help you help meet the needs of the students in your classroom.