In middle schools across the country, teachers face the task of meeting the needs of students with a wide variety of abilities, learning styles and interests. Differentiated instruction refers to a teacher creating work that is appropriately designed to address these differences in learners for the ultimate goal of growing each student. In order to achieve this, teachers draw upon a multitude of resources, including pre-assessments, leveled texts, tiered activities and assessments that are all tailored to meet the needs of individual students.
Preassessments, Screens and Inventories
When a teacher meets a student for the first time, he or she cannot know the student's entire history. Even if a teacher has access to a data base or cumulative records that include standardized test scores, writing samples and screen scores, it is important for a teacher to collect her own data before determining the instruction a student needs.
When assessing content knowledge, teachers can use pre-assessments to see what a student already knows about topics like parts of speech or the scientific method. A teacher can also assess skills such as fluency, comprehension or basic math computation. Teachers can differentiate their instruction to target gaps in understanding or fill in missing skills.
Teachers may also use inventories to assess students' learning style, personality, likes and dislikes. An English Language Arts teacher, for example, can give a reading and writing inventory that gives them a sense of what genres a student enjoys, how often a student reads and how a student approaches writing.
Resources available to teachers after pre-assessment often focus on meeting the students at their ability levels. For middle school language arts, social studies and science, leveled texts allow students access the same content tailored to their individual learning styles and abilities. There are many texts available that provide the same material in ways that meet different learning needs, but that look exactly the same to the students, allowing them to access the material without bringing ability gaps to the knowledge of their peers.
In addition to leveled texts, teachers also used tiered lessons and activities to differentiate instruction. Using this method, teachers create the framework under which students work on different complexity levels or through different processes depending on their learning style or ability. Authors and educators Deborah L. Voltz, Michele Jean Sims and Betty Nelson claim in their book "Connecting Students, Teachers and Standards" that "tiered lessons allow teachers to present a given concept to students at multiple levels of complexity or through multiple learning styles." Teachers have a variety of online resources and strategy books to assist in developing these lessons.
Differentiating at the assessment end only is not ideal. Rather, a teacher should differentiate instruction up to the point of assessment. Once a unit is completed and a teacher is ready to assess, teachers do have the opportunity to address students' multiple intelligence styles. Teachers can adequately assess a student through various techniques. By giving students the chance to choose from a variety of options, teachers allow students' talents to flourish while also assessing content understanding.
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