Differentiated Instruction – An Inclusive Method of Teaching
Watch kids playing in a sandpit to see how they learn. You will notice some creating their dream castles, others watching their friends before emulating them, and some working beautifully in a group – discussing and sharing. There will also be one odd child, completely aloof and disinterested. This is a classic example of how kids perform and function naturally.
Kids learn in a variety of ways. Each child has a unique learning journey based on their personality, aptitude, and interests. Instructors must understand how crucial it is to teach different life skills to kids using a mix of sight, sound, movement, and discovery learning to help them create a niche path for themselves.
This is where differentiated learning comes in.
Differentiated learning is essential if we want to create an inclusive environment that can cater to every child’s learning style. While we do this at a more unconscious level, it is vital to incorporate differentiated learning in classrooms and individual learning.
Let us understand all about differentiated instructions in detail.
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Let’s Dive Deeper in Differentiated Instruction
Let’s take another analogy to illustrate differentiation a little better.
Imagine that you have a pizza party for kids. Now let’s compare them with kids in a typical classroom.
- Amidst the lot, you may notice some kids who love pizza and are willing to have any kind with any topping. These are our learners who will adapt to any medium and any form of instruction.
- You may have some kids who not only love pizza but also crave the extra cheese. Now, these are intelligent learners who can handle excess information and complexity.
- Some kids may not pick pizza as their first choice but will not express any discomfort either. These are regular classroom learners.
- Look out for kids who are allergic to some toppings or even lactose and gluten intolerant. These kids need a specific medium to help them learn better – like auditory or kinaesthetic.
- A few kids may have braces or other issues that prevent them from eating pizza altogether. You may need to either order something else or just have them eat it with a thin crust or no crust at all. These are special learners who need modifications to the content, like simplifying or reducing the quantity.
Related Reading: How to Help Kinesthetic Learners Stay Ahead of the Learning Curve
We notice similar patterns and preferences in our classrooms and homes too. Each child has a particular method and manner of learning that suits them.
If we can understand it and structure learning to their needs, we can help them learn better and faster. They will also enjoy the process a whole lot more in the bargain. This is what differentiated learning is all about.
How does differentiation work in learning?
A phenomenon called multiple intelligence is rather common in education today.
Much like the pizza party, it tells us that each child has a unique way of learning. Differentiated learning and instruction include sight, sound, and touch to help stimulate each learner in the manner they need.
We have a diverse set of kids in our classrooms, some of whom may have disabilities of some kind. Differentiation means creating customized plans that factor in abilities and current levels and charts out goals and milestones accordingly.
Differentiated learning helps kids learn in a style and at a pace that is best for them. It also ensures that no kids fall behind the group and helps detect learning styles and struggles early on.
If you have a differentiated learning methodology, you will be able to cater to intelligent learners, the average children, and kids with disabilities at the same time.
Basics and Brass Tacks of Differentiated Learning
A differentiated classroom may look like a place where kids are doing different things at the same time. It may seem unlike the classrooms we are used to. In fact, some even notice that differentiated classrooms are many little learning clusters within one classroom.
It is a place where learning is maximized, where we are bound to notice a lot of action and activity and plenty of engagement among the learners.
Educational leader and professor at the University of Virginia, Carol Ann Tomlinson, is considered the pioneer of differentiated learning. She talks of differentiated learning as a method that considers learning styles even before developing a lesson plan. Plans are drawn up based on an individual’s style and the level of readiness they display in approaching content.
Whether dealing with a child at home or a group of kids in the classroom, it is crucial to employ differentiated instruction effectively.
The Bedrock of Differentiated Instruction
Differentiation in education entails using a strategy where different learning styles and stimuli are used to teach standard material to different kids. Alternatively, we may use different lessons of varying difficulty to suit the needs of each learner.
Here are some of the basic strategies that all differentiated learning experiences follow:
1. Customized lessons
We can easily customize the lessons in a few different ways. To begin with, the levels of difficulty can be adjusted according to the skill level of kids. We can also plan our teaching depending on the different learning styles the kids have.
Let’s understand customization with an example.
We may decide to use movement in teaching the alphabet, asking kids to form the letters with their hands. This is a typical activity for kinesthetic learners.
Videos and large cue cards of the alphabet that are shown repetitively form the learning plan for visual learners.
The alphabet song might be everyone’s favorite, but it is a home run as far as auditory learning is concerned.
A flexible approach and different scaffolding strategies will allow our kids to learn in the style that works best for them.
Grouping kids by ability and interests helps them share ideas, learn at their own pace, and feel comfortable while learning. This helps tailor the expectations from assignments of each group differently and assess individual learning better.
Grouping also helps us understand which kids should be challenged beyond classroom expectations, identify groups that can work independently, and pick the ones requiring additional prompt or assistance during the task.
Understanding our kids and how they learn will also help us to check their learning. Helping kids with oral questions, allowing them to remember keywords when they have learning difficulties, and asking them to draw illustrations of their responses are just some ways to check for their understanding while making learning fun. While this can be done with kids at home, teachers can conduct similar formative assessments in the classrooms to identify the learning stage and help chart an individual roadmap for every learner.
Related Reading: Types of Parenting Styles and Their Effects on the Child
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4. Learning environment
Kids need a happy, comfortable space to learn.
- Allow them to practice, experiment, explore, and even fail without fear or judgment.
- Ask for their opinion, allow them to build content together, and let them take responsibility for their learning.
- Ask kids who need more help and support to pick the right response instead of making them recall.
- Offer kids with simple choices in selecting their technique, planning their study schedules, and creating timetables. This makes them active learners and teaches them skills like problem-solving, prioritization, and accountability.
Differentiation is Great – But How Do I Make it Happen?
Now that we have understood the principles of differentiated learning, let us try and see how we can implement differentiation in our teaching plans and design.
All these methods can be equally applied at home with our learners and in the classroom. It is essential to consider each of these when planning lessons for kids.
Here are some examples of plans that contain differentiation in various ways:
Let us take a simple example of an English lesson. How do we weave differentiation into the content?
Let’s start by remembering that each child will have their own pace, strengths, and struggles in learning. Think about how well the child learns, how quickly they learn, and how well they remember. In a classroom, we will need to plan for all the levels of learners.
We can begin by reading aloud or have the child read the lesson aloud. In a class, this can be done as a combined activity. We can now frame questions and discussions depending on how well and quickly a child can learn.
Bloom’s Taxonomy can help us create different kinds of questions based on complexity. Here are some questions and discussions that can be considered:
- Spellings and word meanings
- Remembering details like character names, place, setting
- Elements of language
- Understanding the plot and action in the story
- Discussing the author’s rationale, his assumptions, and thoughts while writing
- Creating different storylines, endings, and suggesting better ways to write the same story
- Combining all the teachings of the story and presenting them
Notice how the questions and discussions mentioned above are shown in increasing order of difficulty. A good way is to start with the simpler questions and move forward slowly if the child is comfortable at one stage. Help them build their understanding by stopping at the level the child is at.
Let’s move away from the process for a minute before we can understand it better.
Think about bedtime with our kids. Some kids love reading themselves to sleep, others prefer listening to a story, and a third kind only wants to look at the colorful pictures. This shows that every individual has a preferred style that could be visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. If we can use these preferences while teaching kids, they will enjoy learning more and learn better.
The ideal way to help kids learn a topic is using tools and aids suited to a child’s learning style. Differentiation in the classroom can be brought forth by grouping kids by styles and suggesting activities accordingly.
Some proposed methods include:
- Textbook learning along with research, videos, pictorial representations of the experiment or process (for visual learners)
- Audiobooks, speeches, and talks, or audio optimized visual content (for auditory learners)
- Step by step simulation of the experiment along with journaling of observations and reflections, creating an interactive discussion or problem-solving activity related to the topic (for kinesthetic learners)
When we consider classroom plans or individual learning, we must keep the product or the learning outcome in mind. The product or result will let us know how well a child is suited to the learning and how effective our differentiated lesson plan is.
We cannot assume what a child has learned along with assessing their understanding at each stage. When planning a customized approach to ensure differentiated learning with a child, the assessments must be differentiated too.
Not every child is capable of handling a lot of information. Some of them need simplified content. Others may have more creative ways of showing us how they have learned.
So, here are some differentiated ways of getting learners to demonstrate their understanding and mastery:
- Graphic organizers and mind maps of the topic covered
- A presentation or a historian’s perspective given orally in the class
- Creating a model, chart, or an imaginative depiction of events
- Writing an interesting report on the topic
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Believe it or not, the right environment makes a world of difference in learning. Whether at home or in the classroom, creating a comfortable space for learning is key.
Find a space in the house dedicated to learning. Use the same space every day. Ensure that the seating is comfortable with plenty of light and fresh air. Allow room for movement, and ensure it is undisturbed.
In classrooms, plan the seating and dynamics such that kids can work alone and in groups. Avoid a rigid and conventional seating plan. Allow kids to move without disturbing others. Create spaces where kids can work individually, in large groups, and dyads and triads as well.
Now we will notice that we can –
- Allow ample opportunity for individual learners to have an undisturbed learning space
- Provide kinesthetic learners space, movement, and interaction they need
- Foster collaborative learning among auditory learners to listen to one another
Handy Tips and Tricks to Help the Little Learners
All of this information might be just great, but the real question is – what can we do to make differentiation a part of daily teaching and learning?
Classroom teaching and management can become very difficult on most occasions. Some of the main problems that are faced include disengaged learners, excluded learners, overlooking gifted learners, and creating lessons that aren’t suited to a specific child. What’s more, we may notice similar problems with our learners at home as well!
We can help with some easily implementable strategies that can make differentiated learning more meaningful for our kids and make the process great fun in the bargain.
These strategies are equally helpful with large groups in a classroom and individual learners at home. While they may appear to be generic strategies, they are optimized for differentiation in some form.
Notice how each strategy either creates a more safe learning space. They also include many more methods for learning and presentation like visuals, movement, and storyboards. They also encourage every learner to become more independent.
This is also called choral reading. It works wonders since kids work together without feeling a sense of threat and competition.
Pick up the textbook or curricular content and have kids read it out together. This helps the slower kids keep pace and learn unfamiliar words. At home, we can practice choral work by reading books aloud with the child. We can practice re-reading difficult passages so that the child can familiarize themselves, pick up new words, and understand how to use them in context.
Phonemic awareness is critical to every reader, writer, and thinker. Helping learners practice sounds and words can help them build more confidence.
SplashLearn has many interactive letters, sound, and word games that incorporate sight, sound, and plenty of animation and movement to cater to a diverse range of stages and needs.
Every child must chronicle their learning in some form. Journaling is a great way for kids to reflect, recall, and reproduce their learning. Allow the child to journal using pictures, narrate it as a story, or write it down using words or sentences.
This is an amazing technique in helping kids become independent learners. Show the child a video, content, or even a story. They need to go through it and then become a teacher.
In classrooms, we can make one student explain to their group. At home, the children can teach their parents. They can use their creativity to teach – make a presentation, show pictures, or even present it orally.
All of us have our own experiences, and kids do too. Link their learning to an outing or visit and make it more practically relatable. We can teach subjects like math, science, and even English using a visit to the supermarket, an evening out with friends, or a day at the park.
Concepts like addition, remainders, rainfall, vegetation, and even vocabulary can be built using everyday experiences.
The idea of all learning is for kids to apply it across subjects. When teaching any subject, build on vocabulary by writing down new words and terminology. Put this up on a word wall. Encourage the child to walk past the wall at least once a day, look at the words, and sound out five or ten words daily.
Notice how this activity involves sight, sound, and movement. The great part about it is that we can do this in our classrooms and homes easily. This technique is perfect for visual and kinesthetic learners.
This works exceptionally well for math. Let us take an instance of grade 2 kids. The assumption is that they should be able to add small numbers, including carryovers. We can form groups of learners depending on their abilities and give them additional tasks accordingly. The brighter learners can be given bigger numbers, which go beyond the grade-level expectation.
To promote higher-order thinking, we can even provide them with word problems to apply their understanding of the concept. Other groups can be given simple addition sums without carryovers if they are just getting the hang of addition. The slightly slower kids could experiment with addition using a number line. This is a classic situation of differentiation in a classroom using a similar concept for everyone.
You can also sign up as a teacher on SplashLearn and group students according to their skill level. You can then follow a personalized learning path created for each student and do so much more!
Related Reading: How to Prepare Kids for the First Day of School: Effective Ways
Practice Differentiated Instruction on SplashLearn
Just as we can appreciate differences in kids based on their personality and appearance, we must learn to accept their different approaches and paces in learning.
Being able to differentiate learning in classrooms is the need of the hour and the way forward in all spheres of education. With the kind of learning aids, tools, and options available today, there is little need to feel overwhelmed when planning or structuring a learning experience. The choice of including online games, videos, and other interactive elements has only made things easier and more enriching.
With SplashLearn, you can enjoy customization in lesson plans and assessments managed efficiently. An assortment of visually stimulating and mentally challenging gamified activities help your kids learn at their pace and to their strengths. You can also assess your kids using the same tools to chart out their learning journey.
As parents, teachers, and other experts in the field of education, we shouldn’t just stop at accepting differentiation but ensure it becomes a part of daily teaching and learning.
It is easy to notice how the learning landscape changes completely. How kids begin to enjoy learning and look forward to it, and we realize how much more fulfilling it can be when we have made a difference in their lives. It is time to enjoy the beauty of differentiation and find ways to make it a part of every learning journey.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q1 – What is meant by differentiated instruction?
Each child learns in a particular method and manner that suits them. If teachers and parents are able to understand it and structure learning to the child’s needs, then they can help children learn in a much faster and easier way. An additional benefit to differentiated instruction is that the children will also enjoy the process a whole lot more. This is what differentiated learning is all about.
Q2 – What are some differentiated instructional strategies?
Here are some of the best differentiated instructional strategies:
- For Kinesthetic learners – using movement and establishing physical connection with the learning
- For visual learners – using different mediums such as games, vidoes, playsheets
- For auditory learners – using sound-play, lesson readings, voice overs etc.
Q3 – Which is a good example of differentiated instruction?
A great example of differentiated instruction is Flipped Classroom. This technique helps kids become independent learners. Show the child any piece of content (a video, story, concept, etc). They then need to go through it and then become a teacher themselves.
Q4 – What is the role of the teacher in a differentiated instruction class?
The role of the teacher is of prime importance in a differentiated classroom. The teacher organizes the learning opportunities and is able to retain students’ attention. They are easily able to recognize the different needs of students and are able to take actionable measures to meet those needs. A teacher’s presence in a differentiated classroom leads to increased engagement and understanding.