Differentiated Instruction: Strategies for Teachers

It’s a familiar scene in classrooms across the country. A teacher has a class of thirty students and needs to teach a lesson about a new concept, like long division or prepositional phrases. Some students will take to the concept easily; others will struggle. How should the teacher structure the lesson so the greatest number of students will understand what is being taught?

Students learn at their own paces and in their own ways, so a single lesson plan may not be the most effective teaching process. But differentiated instruction, a pedagogical method that educators use to adapt their teaching styles to students’ different learning styles and abilities, is an ideal solution for offering educational variety without creating individual lesson plans for each student.

Differentiated instruction is meant to be inclusive of students of different ages, levels of understanding, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, and aptitude in a subject. With differentiated instruction, teachers can employ multiple tactics to ensure all students understand and engage with a lesson. Students might prefer different learning styles, such as visual learning, auditory learning, or kinesthetic learning. Teachers can incorporate a combination of these through classroom lecture, video learning, group projects, and interactive online quizzes. Online resources such as Study.com support differentiated instruction by providing a database of materials, such as short animated videos, gamified quizzes, and worksheets that suit different grades, subjects, and abilities—offering the desired variety while cutting down on teacher prep time, allowing for more energy to be spent on activities like differentiation. Teachers can also assign homework outside of the classroom with Study.com’s differentiated instruction resources to reinforce the day’s learning according to their students’ needs.

Further differentiation strategies may be that teachers assign more or less challenging versions of the work, offer more instructions for students who need additional help, or set more complex extension activities as required. For assessment and practice, teachers can also offer students a choice of different types of projects such as reports, presentations, or artistic projects so they can demonstrate mastery of a subject. Group work and project-based learning in particular help students engage in active learning.

The main challenge with differentiated instruction is that it requires more time for lesson planning. Furthermore, some school districts do not have the in-house resources to support teachers in using differentiated instruction. Fortunately, teachers can enrol in professional development courses and workshops to help them build their skills in this area. For example, Study.com offers a self-paced online course in Differentiated Instruction, which provides immediately actionable insights that teachers can apply to the classroom, even as they learn.

While modern education has made great strides since the one-room schoolhouse, when all grades and ages received their education from the same teacher in the same classroom at the same time, students still require some degree of individualization in their lessons. Differentiated instruction can help students gain the education they need, while giving teachers a clear structure for doing so.

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