What does it mean to say you differentiate instruction? It’s much more than shortening an assignment, providing extra time, or adding a challenge question here and there (although those count!) Differentiated instruction strategies can take place in your classroom with regards to the content, process, product, or environment. Today I am sharing five ways you can differentiate your instruction to accommodate for different academic levels and learning styles found in your classroom. I will address instructional and assessment strategies.
Start with the Answer
Starting with the answer is a great way to differentiate your instruction. The best thing is the prep is super easy! You write a number or a word on the board, and students have to think of a question to match. For math, students can write a simple addition problem or a complex equation. For vocabulary words students can come up with surface level or deep-thinking questions. Sometimes, I give students a couple minutes to come up with as many equations or questions as they can. This activity works great as a formative assessment strategy because it allows you to see the level of complexity in student thinking.
You can address students’ understanding of vocabulary and honor their learning styles with this activity. When students are learning new vocabulary words you can play a modified game of charades. Each student is given a vocabulary word. They can either draw, write a verbal description, or think of how to act it out. Using whatever choice they made, each student will come up in front of the class (or use small groups). They will describe the word using the format of their choice, and the other students try to guess what the word is.
Students can definitely learn from each other. One way to foster this type of learning is to meet with students of mixed abilities. I often use this strategy when I am introducing a new type of math word problem. Students are able to demonstrate their level of understanding by applying the strategy that makes the most sense to them. Students who answer right away either check their work by applying a different strategy, help other students, or try a more challenging problem. For struggling students, I sometimes need to refer back to perseverance strategies, especially at the beginning of the year. To read more about conferring strategies when students are stuck on a math concept, you can read this post. However, most of the time, the small group provides a safe environment for students to have a little productive struggle.
Differentiated Instruction Choices
If I’m not meeting with a heterogeneous group, I am meeting with students based on their strengths and needs. However, sometimes I allow students to sign up for a group with a skill that matches a goal that they made. For example, in narrative writing, I may allow students to sign up for one of the following: composing a strong lead, adding figurative language, using dialogue, going step by step, or paragraph rules. When students are in charge of their own learning, they seem to become more focused and invested in the small group activity. I’ve read this suggestion in several professional books (most recently Answers to Your Biggest Questions about Teaching Elementary Writing). I have found that it works very well with my students.
Differentiated Assessment Strategies
Students can let their learning styles shine when given a choice of a final product. Choice of product is one of my (and my students’) favorite go-to assessment strategies. The list below is a great starting point. I usually include 3-5 options, and I venture off this list when it’s appropriate to do so.
Differentiation is extremely important to allow all students to reach their maximum potential. I’d love to hear your favorite ways to differentiate instruction.