What is it?
Differentiation: Imagine sitting in a class like the video above. Would you be engaged in learning? Would you be interested in the lesson? More than likely you wouldn’t be engaged. Differentiation is a way of teaching that draws students in to learning that is individualized for them. It is intentional, small group, data-driven instruction. It is also an ever present battle that teachers fight. How do you provide instruction that meets the needs of every learner in your classroom when each student has unique needs? Teachers can differentiate their instruction in three ways: Content, Delivery, and Assignment. Let’s take a look at each.
Content involves what the students are learning or what is being taught. For teachers in Gwinnett County, this would be the Academic Knowledge and Skills, or AKS. This is where pretests come in handy. Pretests provide data that can let the teacher know if students have the prerequisite skills needed to learn the new AKS, if students need to review content taught in a previous grade level, or if students only need a short introduction before diving deeper into the content. For instance, if students can demonstrate that they have already learned an AKS, then their content can be differentiated by allowing them to go above and beyond or deeper into a content topic.
Delivery is how the content is being taught. Many of us are familiar with Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences. It states that each of us learns best in a unique way. See below for a description of each of the learning styles.
For students in our classrooms, many of them identify with more than one learning style. To best differentiate our instruction to fit the needs of our students, we should present new concepts and skills in multiple ways.
Although it takes a lot of planning, it is best when you can deliver content in a way that incorporates many different learning preferences (or styles). Now, that is not to say that each student needs to see and participate in each of the delivery methods. If a student learns best through musical and bodily-kinesthetic activities, they might participate in those rather than the linguistic activity. This is why we call it differentiation. Each student participates in different activities that fit their specific learning needs.
The assignment is the task or product that the student is creating, i.e., how the student will demonstrate their learning. This can be differentiated in many ways. A student who needs frequent breaks might complete small chunks of the assignment at a time with a break in between each chunk. Some assignments might address prerequisite skills while other might be more appropriate for a proficient level learner. Providing assignments at the level of each of our learners prevents frustration from difficult tasks as well as boredom from tasks that are too simple.
Let’s Take A Look
Below is an example of a differentiated lesson.
Call to Action
As an educator you will always have learners with unique needs. What are examples you can share about how you have differentiated in the past? How will you differentiate to meet the needs of all your students? What are your goals for differentiating in the next school year? Share your answers to these questions in a comment below and let’s learn from each other!