How to Apply Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction allows different learners to learn at roughly the same pace.
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Differentiated instruction allows students with different abilities to advance academically at roughly the same pace. While differentiated instruction requires more preparation on the teacher’s part, if done correctly, it can also ease the challenges of keeping an entire classroom of differently abled students engaged in a single activity.

1 In-Class Activities

The most basic way of applying differentiated instruction is for a teacher to modify her instruction to appeal to different kinds of learners. For example, a basic lecture can be tailored to appeal to tactile or hands-on learners by incorporating some simple movement or manipulatives as the lecture progresses. The lecturer might toss a soft foam ball around the room to different students who might have questions about the material. The lecturer might also incorporate visual aids such as a computer presentation or video to aid visual learners. And for students that require additional guidance following a lecture, the teacher may distribute his lecture notes, or even a question and answer handout that students can complete as the lecture progresses.

2 Formative Assessment

When generating differentiation for class activities such as lectures or discussions, teachers include a wide variety of formative assessment strategies to gauge how students are progressing with the material. These activities can range from brief show-of-hand survey questions about the material to more complicated individual reflection assignments such as journaling or one-on-one teacher conferences. Following such brief assessments, teachers adjust their class activities by either progressing forward to more advanced material or taking additional time to review previous material. Occasionally it is possible for a teacher to move some students ahead to more advanced material, while allowing other students to spend additional time reviewing previous material.

3 Summative Assessment

At the end of a particular unit, a teacher can make minor adjustments to his summative test in an effort to challenge advanced students and provide some additional help for remedial students. Teachers alter some questions by having them engage more advanced cognitive skills for some and less advanced cognitive skills for others. For example, some students might be asked an essay question that requires them to analyze and synthesize two different passages, while other students might be asked an essay question that requires them summarize and analyze only one passage. Additionally, for students with specifically identified learning disabilities or impairments such as dyslexia, teachers can alter the visual dynamics of a test itself to cut down on the visual “clutter” that can sometimes confuse students as they take tests.

4 Grouping

Following both formative and summative assessments, teachers can elect to group students together for class activities and out-of-class assignments based on students’ abilities. While some teachers elect to form student groups in which each member achieves at roughly the same level, other teachers form student groups in which some members are advanced, while others require additional assistance. The idea behind the former grouping is to allow advanced students to work independently on more complicated activities and assignments, while giving less advanced students an opportunity to work more closely with the teacher. The idea behind the latter groups is to allow advanced students to acquire enrichment by acting as student instructors for the less advanced students requiring remediation.

Samuel Hamilton has been writing since 2002. His work has appeared in “The Penn,” “The Antithesis,” “New Growth Arts Review" and “Deek” magazine. Hamilton holds a Master of Arts in English education from the University of Pittsburgh, and a Master of Arts in composition from the University of Florida.