Consider the following scenario.
Miss Roberts teaches kindergarten and is meeting her class on the first day of school. This is the first time some of her students have attended formal schooling, and they will need time to adjust to routines like lining up and raising their hands. Others have already attended multiple years of preschool. Some students are already reading at a first-grade level or higher, while others haven’t learned letter names yet. Some students can do simple addition and subtraction problems, while others are still learning to count to ten. Many students are excited about kindergarten, but others are anxious about being away from home for so long.
Teachers of all grade levels and subjects welcome diverse students into their classrooms each year, each with their own prior knowledge and experiences, cultures, interests, strengths, and challenges. Differentiated instruction is one strategy teachers use to meet the needs of all the students within the classroom and help everyone to meet the learning objectives.
In this video, we will describe differentiated instruction and the types of data teachers use to plan for it. We will also describe what forms differentiation may take within the classroom.
What Is Differentiated Instruction?
Differentiation refers to tailoring instruction to meet the diverse needs of students within a classroom. It may involve differentiating the instructional content, instructional process, or learning environment.
When teachers differentiate the content, they consider students’ needs when selecting instructional materials and levels of scaffolding. A teacher may select texts related to students’ interests when analyzing plot, for example, or provide note-taking guides for a history lesson for students who need extra support. However, all students are still expected to meet the same learning objectives unless they have modifications outlined in an Individualized Education Program, also known as an IEP.
Teachers may also differentiate the instructional process used to meet students’ needs. If assessment data shows that students are struggling to solve addition problems mentally, a teacher may model how to solve them using number lines or manipulatives, trying different methods until students demonstrate success. Providing small-group instruction to reteach or extend understanding is another example of differentiating the process or teaching methods.
Differentiation can also occur in the learning environment. Teachers may use flexible seating for students who benefit from opportunities to move around the classroom, or incorporate visual and auditory reminders of the daily schedule for students who find transitions stressful.
Differentiated instruction is not synonymous with individualized instruction, which customizes instruction to the needs of one individual learner. The resources required for individualized instruction are not typically present in a classroom environment, so differentiated instruction seeks to meet students’ needs through flexible groupings and teaching methods that may be reasonably applied in a group environment.
Differentiation benefits all learners, not just those who need extra support. It ensures that all students receive instruction in line with their needs and current levels of achievement.
What Data is Used for Differentiation?
Teachers gather a variety of data in order to differentiate instruction.
First, they gather formative assessment data, which is collected while students are still learning a new concept or skill. Formative assessment data may include discussions, checklists, and observations of student performance during guided or independent practice. Teachers use this information to determine which students are already succeeding on specific learning objectives and which students need additional instruction or practice. They can also identify where misconceptions or errors are occurring by analyzing students’ problem-solving methods.
Teachers also gather summative assessment data, which is collected after the conclusion of a larger chunk of instruction, such as a unit. When summative assessment items are correlated with specific standards and learning objectives, teachers can identify which areas to focus on in reteaching and small-group instruction. Standardized test results commonly provide this type of data, which is used to differentiate instruction.
In addition to observing students’ academic performances, teachers can consider students’ interests, attitudes, prior experiences, and cultures. For example, when incorporating real-world problem-solving into instruction, teachers may use examples relevant to students’ interests and communities to increase student attention and motivation.
Other environmental factors, such as access to resources and home environments, should also be considered when differentiating instruction. For example, students who get little sleep at home may have difficulty staying awake by the afternoon. The teacher may arrange the schedule to teach more difficult concepts in the morning when students are most alert and plan for more frequent breaks in the afternoon.
What Does Differentiation Look Like in a Classroom?
Let’s look at an example of differentiation in an elementary classroom.
Mr. Baxter is beginning a new lesson on two-digit addition. Pretest results have indicated that a small group of students have already mastered this skill.1 Rather than requiring these students to sit through an introductory lesson that may cause boredom, Mr. Baxter has planned a cooperative, project-based activity on addition for them to complete instead.2
Simultaneously, Mr. Baxter introduces two-digit addition to the rest of the class. He models the procedure several times and then assigns some guided practice problems. He walks around the room and observes students, stopping to monitor their approaches and ask them to explain their thinking
He notes one group of students who quickly and accurately answer all the problems, so he directs them to begin some independent practice activities.3
He notes another group who struggles on the first steps, and he plans a small-group reteaching session for later in the day.4
He observes one student who is not aligning the digits correctly, causing errors. He stops to show the student how to fix this issue, then checks back later to see if the student is applying his feedback.5
Mr. Baxter has also observed his students’ interest in the book fair that is currently underway at the school, so he plans some follow-up practice involving calculating totals for book purchases the following day.
All right, let’s review what we learned in this video.
- Differentiation refers to tailoring instruction to meet the diverse needs of students within a classroom.
- It may involve differentiating the instructional content, instructional process, or learning environment without changing the learning objectives.
- Differentiation uses flexible groupings to meet the needs of students within a classroom environment, where resources are not typically present to individualize instruction for each student.
- Teachers use formative and summative assessment data and information about students’ interests, cultures, prior experiences, and environmental factors to differentiate instruction.
- Before we go, let’s tackle a couple of review questions.
As part of a district reading program, a teacher administers progress monitoring on fluency to all students twice per month. How might this progress monitoring be used to differentiate instruction?
What do you think the benefits might be of using technology and digital learning for differentiating and individualizing instruction?
Thanks for watching, and happy studying!