Since we all have unique finger prints, l believe every pupil has an individual learning style. Not all of your pupils will understand a learning area the same way nor will they share the same level of ability. So how can we as teachers better deliver our lessons to reach every child in class? Have you considered differentiated instruction?

In this article, you will learn what it is, and how you can implement it in your classroom.

As an inclusive education practitioner l use differentiation to respond to my pupils’ abilities and needs by adapting the regular content to ensure that their  needs including the more able, are effectively met. This helps all pupils to retain information easily, and at their own pace. It has changed the way l teach and has enhanced pupil growth and individual success. l am able to meet each learner where he or she is and assist them in their learning process.

Successful inclusive education occurs mostly by accepting, understanding, and attending to student differences and diversity, be it physical, cognitive, academic, social, or emotional. This doesn’t mean that pupils don’t spend time out of the normal classes, because sometimes it is required for an important purpose — like for speech or occupational therapy.

According to the Universal Design for Learning 2013, In a nutshell, during differentiated instruction teachers focus on the pupil and respond to their individual differences through a process of adapting and modifying teaching and learning activities, and what pupils are required to do and produce in the classroom.

At the beginning of a scholastic year teachers are encouraged to gather facts about their learners , this can be done thorough baseline assessments. This will help them prepare content and materials for differentiation purposes. It is important to focus on creating a conducive learning environment so that all pupils learn well and achieve their true potential. This involves using learner centered teaching methods and developing suitable learning materials.

At the beginning of the year you can give your pupils a baseline assessment in Mathematics with a variety of tasks involving computation at different levels degrees of difficulty and in varied contexts, this will help you assess their starting points.

You will discover that your pupils represent a range of readiness, from two or three years below grade expectations or above grade level. For example last year some of my Grade 4 pupils had challenges with basic mathematics facts and rules of computation in addition or subtraction.

Some of them had a good understanding of number computation in addition, subtraction, and multiplication but were in need of opportunities to apply their understanding in problem solving situations.

I put my pupils in four learning groups whereby pupils in Group A had direct instruction with me. I would teach them a certain concept and leave them to practice on white boards in pairs on the floor while l attended to the other groups.

Group B used manipulatives or diagrams to work with number computation and to explain their answers . This helped pupils understand the relationship between numbers and number computations. Pupils shared the tasks they were working on and explained how they decided on the operation or number sentence to use, and why they thought their answers are correct. Answers could be proved by diagrams or manipulatives.

In Group C pupils worked on their accuracy and speed in a given concept using tasks on worksheets, Mathletics , or their Number Sense workbook. They checked their work using an answer key or calculator. At the end they gave a self evaluation of their work.

Group D mainly did mathematics related projects like surveys, designing a hall and the like. They also solved real world problems using their mathematics skills.

Below is an article on differentiation l found interesting and l intend to use it to incorporate my pupils different learning styles when planning differentiation.

What is Differentiated Instruction? Examples of How to Differentiate Instruction in the Classroom

By Cathy Weselby ​

Just as everyone has a unique fingerprint, every student has an individual learning style. Chances are, not all students grasp a subject in the same way or share the same level of ability. So how can you (as a teacher) better deliver your lessons to reach everyone in class?

Consider differentiated instruction—a method you may have heard about but haven’t explored, which is why you’re here. In this article, learn exactly what it means, how it works, and the pros and cons.

What does differentiated instruction mean?

Carol Ann Tomlinson is a leader in the area of differentiated learning and a professor of educational leadership, foundations, and policy at the University of Virginia. Tomlinson describes differentiated instruction as factoring students’ individual learning styles and levels of readiness first before designing a lesson plan.

Research on the effectiveness of differentiation shows this method benefits a wide range of students, from those with learning disabilities to those who are considered high ability.
Differentiating instruction may mean teaching the same material to all students using a variety of instructional strategies, or it may require the teacher to deliver lessons at varying levels of difficulty based on the ability of each student.
Teachers who practice differentiation in the classroom may:

  • Design lessons based on students’ learning styles.
  • Group students by shared interest, topic, or ability for assignments.
  • Assess students’ learning using formative assessment.
  • Manage the classroom to create a safe and supportive environment.
  • Continually assess and adjust lesson content to meet students’ needs.

History of differentiated instruction

The roots of differentiated instruction go all the way back to the days of composite classes also known as multi age classes, where one teacher had students of all ages in one classroom. As the educational system transitioned to grading schools, it was assumed that children of the same age learned similarly. However in 1912, achievement tests were introduced, and the scores revealed the gaps in student’s abilities within grade levels.

Four ways to differentiate instruction

According to Tomlinson, teachers can differentiate instruction through four ways: 1) content, 2) process, 3) product, and 4) learning environment.

1. Content

As you already know, fundamental lesson content should cover the standards of learning set by the school district or state educational standards. But some students in your class may be completely unfamiliar with the concepts in a lesson, some students may have partial mastery, and some students may already be familiar with the content before the lesson begins.

What you could do is differentiate the content by designing activities for groups of students that cover various levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (a classification of levels of intellectual behavior going from lower-order thinking skills to higher-order thinking skills). The six levels are: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

Students who are unfamiliar with a lesson could be required to complete tasks on the lower levels: remembering and understanding. Students with some mastery could be asked to apply and analyze the content, and students who have high levels of mastery could be asked to complete tasks in the areas of evaluating and creating.

Examples of differentiating activities:

  • Match vocabulary words to definitions.
  • Read a passage of text and answer related questions.
  • Think of a situation that happened to a character in the story and a different outcome.
  • Differentiate fact from opinion in the story.
  • Identify an author’s position and provide evidence to support this viewpoint.
  • Create a PowerPoint presentation summarizing the lesson.

2. Process

Each student has a preferred learning style, and successful differentiation includes delivering the material to each style: visual, auditory and kinesthetic, and through words. This process-related method also addresses the fact that not all students require the same amount of support from the teacher, and students could choose to work in pairs, small groups, or individually. And while some students may benefit from one-on-one interaction with you or the classroom aide, others may be able to progress by themselves. Teachers can enhance student learning by offering support based on individual needs.

Examples of differentiating the process:

  • Provide textbooks for visual and word learners.
  • Allow auditory learners to listen to audio books.
  • Give kinesthetic learners the opportunity to complete an interactive assignment online.

3. Product

The product is what the student creates at the end of the lesson to demonstrate the mastery of the content. This can be in the form of tests, projects, reports, or other activities. You could assign students to complete activities that show mastery of an educational concept in a way the student prefers, based on their learning style.

Examples of differentiating the end product:

  • Read and write learners write a book report.
  • Visual learners create a graphic organizer of the story.
  • Auditory learners give an oral report.
  • Kinesthetic learners build a diorama illustrating the story.

4. Learning environment

The conditions for optimal learning includes both physical and psychological elements. A flexible classroom layout is key, incorporating various types of furniture and arrangements to support both individual and group work. Psychologically speaking, teachers should use classroom management techniques that support a safe and supportive learning environment.

Examples of differentiating the environment:

  • Break some students into reading groups to discuss the assignment.
  • Allow students to read individually if preferred.
  • Create quiet spaces where there are no distractions.

Pros and cons of differentiated instruction

The benefits of differentiation in the classroom are often accompanied by the drawback of an ever-increasing workload. Here are a few factors to keep in mind:

Pros

  • Research shows differentiated instruction is effective for high-ability students as well as students with mild to severe disabilities.
  • When students are given more options on how they can learn material, they take on more responsibility for their own learning.
  • Students appear to be more engaged in learning, and there are reportedly fewer discipline problems in classrooms where teachers provide differentiated lessons.

Cons

  • Differentiated instruction requires more work during lesson planning, and many teachers struggle to find the extra time in their schedule.
  • The learning curve can be steep and some schools lack professional development resources.
  • Critics argue there isn’t enough research to support the benefits of differentiated instruction outweighing the added prep time.

Postponement of the Maximising Maths Course

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