Each person learns and thinks differently. Likewise, kids have different ways of coming to an answer or conclusion. As parents and educators, we must never assume there is one way to learn. This is why a one-size-fits-all model doesn’t work in the classroom. Based on my experiences as a credentialed teacher, here are a few tips on how to differentiate instruction in the elementary classroom.
What is Differentiated Instruction?
In short, differentiated instruction is a when a teacher gives students opportunities and choices to learn in different ways. In order to differentiate instruction, educators need to understand how each student learns best and give them opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge based on their interests and learning styles. Educators should use interest inventories, assessments and observation to make these decisions. The bottom line: differentiated instruction should be used to meet the needs of all students in the classroom.
Flexible groups are an important part of differentiation. This means that a group may change based on a student’s need. This also means one group may be bigger and another one smaller. One group may meet longer one day and another group might meet longer another day. Sometimes, groups may be put together based on interest. Sometimes, groups of mixed-abilities will be put together so that all children in the class are able to work together.
Sometimes, a teacher may choose a concept (such as facts) to work on with the class. However, students may want to use different books to work on the concept. Teachers will choose a theme like animals and bring in different books, articles or passages about various animals. Kids can choose what animal they would like to read about. Then, students will be put into groups based on their interests.
Students have different learning styles: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile. Thus, when they learn a concept, it’s important to give them different options to access the information. For instance, when learning fractions, you might give some students the choice of using fraction bars to manipulate (tactile), fraction charts to look at (visual), listening to fraction songs and chants (auditory) and taking part in physical activity that represents fractions (kinesthetic…such as shooting free throws to help illustrate fractions. Three out of four shots means you made ¾ of the shots).
I have learned that children like choices. Learning menus display a list of activities for a certain concept. Then, children choose two to three activities to complete. The menus can be open ended and laminated so students always have a choice.
In order to see if your differentiated instruction is working, you will need to give formative assessments to monitor your students’ learning. This can help educators see if their flexible groups needs to be changed or if a child simply isn’t being reached.
Differentiating instruction can help all of your students feel valued and be successful.
More from Melissa:
Fun Activities to Teach Kids About Angles
Fun Real World Fraction Activities for Kids
Tips for Teaching Kids to Read With Expression