Updated: Feb 26, 2021
I am a firm believer in making my classroom an environment where all children are successful and feel confident in their learning. Differentiated learning is just one way to help those children who may be behind or even ahead to grow and flourish in the classroom. The goal is the same: learning, regardless of where we start we want children to learn at a pace that does not frustrate and overwhelm. So what can we do as teachers to meet the needs of every child in our classroom?
What is differentiated instruction?
Differentiated Instruction is a method of teaching that meets the particular needs of each child without modifying the curriculum. Teachers use differentiated teaching strategies to help all children feel challenged and successful depending on learning levels and capabilities.
Why differentiated instruction is important?
Not all children have the same educational experiences coming into the classroom. This is especially true for younger students that may not have been in a structured school environment before coming to kindergarten or first grade. Children come into the classroom with varied levels of academic achievement which makes standard teaching practices outdated for a majority of the students. Teaching to the middle cannot be the strategy we embrace in the 21st century. In order to meet the needs of our varied learners we have to plan according to the levels we have each year. What one class did the year before may not be attainable for the current group or may not be enough of a challenge.
Also, with students that are either above or below the academic middle there can be built up frustration. When children are expected to work above or below their instructional level they often don't perform well. Those that are below level have lower confidence and less stamina to complete tasks. Those students that require a challenge and find themselves bored often begin to feel resentful of having to complete work they can easily do and begin to act out.
What does a differentiated lesson plan look like?
Planning for differentiation in the classroom takes some getting used to. Instead of creating one plan for the entire group the objectives are broken down into levels. When I think about planning I look at the type of learners and the level of learners. I then group my class accordingly. I generally have between 4-6 groups during any given lesson. I then tailor my small group teaching to meeting the objectives in different ways to play to the strengths and levels of each group. This can seem tedious at first but once we get used to the structure of lesson panning for differentiation it becomes second nature.
This is one of my reading objectives broken down into differentiated lessons:
What does differentiated teaching look like?
For students at my school any lessons that are differentiated are taught in small groups. This way students are not put on the spot or made to feel bad when they are working on a lower level than others. This allows all students to feel successful not matter where their learning is at the moment.
What are differentiated products?
A differentiated product that you purchase should explain how to use it for different levels of learning and provide materials that meet those lessons. For example, when I create a differentiated unit for Teachers Pay Teachers I make sure to give examples of how I have used it to differentiate and provide materials for each level of learning. When I created my differentiated read the room units I provided 3 different levels.
The first level provides the entire word the child is expected to write down, this way a child that does not have confidence in letter sounds can copy the word, learning how the word looks while associating the letters with the sounds.
The second level eliminates the consonants but still provides the targeted vowel. This allows the student to focus on the beginning and ending sound while reinforcing the targeted vowel sound and formation.
The third level eliminates all letters the children are expected to write down. This way those that are confident in letter sound and formation are expected to sound out the word and write down all of the letters. This challenge will help them to slow down and really think about what they are doing.
These 3 levels of the same activity puts all children on the same playing field while also meeting their needs. The lower students don't feel overwhelmed and the higher students get their challenge. Even the middle students are on their own level that allows them to be successful.
Why don't all schools/teachers differentiate?
School philosophies are different depending on the type of school the child attends. Some schools are still partial to everyone doing the same thing at the same time. Some schools prefer to have every child learning individually. And then there are other schools that find a balance between the two. I prefer the later, I have found that some academic areas do not require as much differentiation as others. For instance reading, writing and math are often my most differentiated subjects where science and social studies are more standard.
Are differentiated teaching strategies only for students that are behind? Is there such thing as differentiated instruction for gifted students?
We often talk about differentiation as a means of meeting the needs of students that are lower academically but differentiation should be used for all types of learners. We should be differentiating for gifted students that need a challenge, ESL students that need more language development, remedial students that need core work before moving on, students with a specific learning objective that others have already mastered and students that are working above the core group. We can also target differentiation towards how a child learns, auditorily, kinesthetically or visually.
Is there such thing as differentiated instruction for gifted students?
We should be looking at every level of student we have for differentiation in the classroom. A child that works far above the other students does not need to be stagnant. If we can differentiate for them by giving them higher work in the same area as the rest of the class then their strengths can shine and they will feel challenged. There is nothing more frustrating to me as a teacher than having a child be bored in class because they already know what is being taught. Behavior issues and boredom can be alleviated with an acceptable challenge that meets the lessons objectives.
How to read the room with a differentiated product?
Read the room is an excellent center activity! I use read the room almost daily in my classroom for literacy, vocabulary, letter recognition, spelling patterns, number concepts, animals and much more!
I start read the room by giving expectations and needed materials. I give my students clip boards with recording sheets on their level or a dry erase board.
I will have already hung up the cards for the first group. The children in the first group go around to each card and match the number on the card to the number of picture on their paper. They then write the word. Once completed I send the first group back to collect the cards and send the next group out to hang up their cards. This way the higher groups can't copy form the lower cards. I have also hung cards all together one on top of the other and quickly go around and grabbed the first layer off between groups.
For children who are struggling to write, don't know all of their letters or are struggling with letter sounds I will use my cards with the word on them and print out the worksheets that have the entire word to trace. This way the students are getting reinforcement of letter sound recognition and proper letter formation. As these children build their letter skills they can move into the pages that only have the target vowel and they have to fill in the beginning and ending sounds.
For those students who are doing well with their letters and are starting to spell words I choose to hang the cards with either just the target vowel or with not writing at all. I will use either the page with just the pictures for recording or even the page that only has the numbers of the cards to match. It just truly depends on where each student is comfortable working with some challenge.
As your students become comfortable with the read the room basic recording they can then begin to complete the other activities included in the file. Here I have had students write the target word and then rewrite it using different colors for each letter:
Here those who need a challenge can write the word and then write a word that rhymes with the target word:
These students can then move into writing sentences and stories with their words:
Other students can complete a draw and write to hone their skills:
Here are some of the other activities included with each of my Differentiated Read the Room Files:
There are many more activities you can incorporate into read the room. The files contain an entire page of differentiated teaching strategies to further the learning past read the room. The short letter "Ii" file is free for you to download and try. If you believe these files will be beneficial for your students you can purchase them individually or in a bundle. I hope you enjoy adding read the room to your classroom activities!