We all know differentiating instruction is very important in our classrooms. Everyone under the sun tells us all about it. It is the biggest buzz word and sometimes so hard to achieve!
We also know how hard it can be to incorporate and manage it all the time in our busy rooms. But not to fear this blog post is here! This is the first post of several to come on how to differentiate instruction without losing your marbles. All of these ways and tricks have been fully implemented in my classroom and I have seen great success.
But first what is differentiation?
In the school I work in I have felt many people have mixed up differentiation and accommodations. It is important to understand the difference. Both are great things; however, they both serve different purposes. Differentiation means teachers must modify, adapt instruction and assessments, and activities to meet the needs of students. Each student that walks into our classrooms have a different set of skills, needs, and learning style. In order to teach each child, we need to be prepared as teachers to meet each need. By differentiating instruction, you can meet the needs of all learners in your classroom; which is our ultimate goal. Now differentiation doesn’t mean smaller assignments, or you do assignments with them. Oh no! It is a whole different ball game! Students receive different instruction, assessments, and activities for specific skills. It doesn’t mean you walk them through everything or that students have the same exact assignment or assessment. With differentiation the assessments and assignments are designed for their specific needs.
Think of differentiation as an individual learning plan. It starts out with assessing students to discover what they need to be successful in your classroom. From there you can modify and adjust lessons, activities, and your interactions with each student to help them reach the goal.
Now how to do it in the classroom!
The first thing I do at the beginning of the school year is figure out who my student is as a person. It is important to develop this relationship/bond prior to assessing and discovering their needs. By getting to know your students it’ll make the year go smoother and you’ll be able to detect how each child learns.
After the initial assessment period I set up folders in my classroom. Each folder has the student’s number on it. Inside each folder are activities of skills each student needs to work on. For example, one of my students doesn’t understand cause and effect. So, I have put several activities in this folder for them to practice cause and effect. Another student of mine doesn’t understand borrowing for subtraction. In her particular folder she has about 5 activities just on this skill alone. I have another student who is high in all subject areas, but I can barely read his handwriting. So, in his folder he has handwriting activities to help with his motor skills. My students are able to choose between activities and work on skills they need. If students are low in multiple skill areas, I add those activities in their folder too, however, I make sure they do not have more than eight activities total in their folder. For one, they won’t complete more than eight and two it gets messy!
As I discover new needs for my students, I just add it to their folder throughout the year. Students use these folders when they have finished their morning work or have finished another task early. They go find their folder and work on some activity in it. When they finish with an activity or printable, they turn it into the basket. This is my way of monitoring their progress and another data point too. This also helps with classroom management because my students know exactly what to do after they finish anything. It’s a two for one deal!! Also, after they have finished all the activities in their folder and if I haven’t added more yet they turn their folder in and I replenish their activities. I check back to see how well they have done with the previous activities placed in their folder. This helps me determine if they need to review the concept still or if they can move on with a new concept.