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  • Stacey Benz

Differentiated Instruction Strategies For All Students

Updated: Feb 22, 2022

Many teachers naturally, and sometimes unconsciously, adjust their instruction to meet the needs of their students. As an administrator, I would observe classrooms and follow-up with teachers asking them:

  • How did you differentiate instruction for your students? 

  • Who did this benefit? How did it benefit them? 

  • Were there any students that still struggled? What might you consider doing for them in the future?” 

Sometimes teachers could quickly identify what differentiation occurred in their lesson. Other times, despite my own observation of several differentiated instructional strategies, the teacher simply didn’t recognize what they had done to adjust the learning for their students. 

Carol Ann Tomlinson defines differentiated instruction as “tailoring instruction to meet individual student needs. Whether teachers differentiate content, process, products, or the learning environment, the use of ongoing assessment and flexible grouping makes this a successful approach to instruction. Differentiation means giving students multiple options for taking in information (1999). Differentiating instruction means that you observe and understand the differences and similarities among students and use this information to plan instruction.” 

Differentiated instruction doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Simply stated, differentiated instruction is ensuring all students have the same learning goals, but the materials and methods used are tailored to student needs. Let’s break it down. What options do you have for differentiating instruction with content, process, products, or the learning environment?

Content – What is it that the students will be learning based on the curriculum and standards? Understand student interests, academic readiness and language acquisition to create lessons that will meet their needs.

  • Create small, flexible groups to support student needs, including pre-teaching, re-teaching and extensions.

  • Offer materials at different reading levels, or on audio, to meet the needs of students.

  • Provide video clips so that students can watch and re-watch content at their own pace.

  • Scaffold the instruction so students can build on smaller concepts prior to learning new skills. 

  • For gifted learners, or students that show mastery on a pre-assessment, consider a compacted curriculum.

  • Consider sentence starters for students to use when writing or completing projects.

Process – Based on what the students will be learning, process is how the students engage with the content they are learning.

  • Use of choice boards to allow students the opportunity to choose which activities will support their learning. 

  • Provide options to use manipulatives or graphic organizers. 

  • Opportunities to engage in independent learning, partner learning, small group learning or with the teacher. 

  • Know your students’ learning styles and offer opportunities for them to engage in their preferred learning style when possible. 

Products – What options do students have to show their understanding of the content and skills? 

  • Provide students with options for how to present their unit learning including written reports, presentations or Google slides, songs and artistic presentations, etc.

  • For smaller skills consider offering options for students to create games, comic strips, photography, posters, etc.

  • Formative and summative assessments are also options to gain perspective on student understanding of concepts throughout the unit.

Learning Environment – How does the classroom work and feel for students as they learn?

  • Flexible seating – offer students different options for how and where to work and learn. Encourage respectful movement. Students learn best when their bodies have oxygen flow to their brains.

  • Safe community of learners – establish and ensure a classroom environment that welcomes and supports all learners. Teach (and model for) students that making mistakes is an important part of the learning process. 

  • Learner centered – take a look at your classroom, or have a colleague review or observe, to ensure that your classroom is focused on the learners. 

This infographic created by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, and shared in the Continental Press article, Refocus Your Approach to Differentiated Instruction, shows what differentiation is and is not and provides great insight into differentiated instruction strategies for all students.

Differentiated instruction is a gift teachers give their students as they learn new content and skills. Tap into the student voice in your classroom and ask what they think would make the learning more engaging and easier to understand- guaranteed the students will have thoughts, and those thoughts may make it more engaging and enjoyable for you, too!

The expert educators and consultants at TCEC are committed to ensuring your scholars are given every opportunity to succeed and grow. We are ready to support your school community and look forward to connecting with you!

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