Differentiation consists of the efforts of teachers to respond to variance among learners in the classroom and it can help address learners’ readiness, interests and learning profiles. Two teachers share more on the efforts they have made to serve diverse learners in their classrooms.
Enabling Learning through Four Instructional Strategies
Every student learns differently; there is no one learning preference. To engage them during lessons, the use of differentiated instruction strategies is required to address their learning needs effectively.
For my lessons, besides assessment for learning strategies, I also use four instructional strategies.
The first involves using different types of graphic organizers to help students to organize their thoughts while also offering them different ways of presenting information visually. However, the use of different organizers during different sections of the lessons may cause confusion among students. To overcome this, I spend some time explaining and showing my students examples to help them appropriately utilize the different organizers. Students appreciate the provision of such structures to organize information.
The second one involves providing students with different types of support based on their individual needs to enable them to either work in pairs, small groups, or individually. This requires me to spend a fair bit of time on my students as I will monitor their work closely to allow me to better plan each lesson based on their different learning preferences.
I have also created a third-teacher environment in my studio to foster creativity and provide the culture of design for students to experience. A continuous careful and intentional selection of relevant learning materials is posted on the wall to support creative thinking and invention. I observe which learning materials on the walls were being referred to by my students and replace those they showed little interest in. This can help to ignite the joy of learning in students.
The last of the four instructional strategies involves me video-recording my lessons for students to watch again at their convenience. I see this as a scaffolding that supports students who need more time to process information. For the videos to be useful, it requires me to put in a considerable amount of effort, time and planning to ensure that the contents are engaging and beneficial.
Empowering Students’ Learning through Choices
“Learning anything new takes practice, and with practice comes comfort, and with comfort comes the ability to do new and exciting things.” – Unknown
I find this quote apt when reflecting about my journey in implementing differentiated instruction (DI) in my classroom. At first, it was daunting and the obstacles seemed insurmountable. However, as I seek to inculcate in my students a love of learning, to give up DI without trying would go against my teaching. And as with learning anything new, I found DI easier to implement with practice.
Teaching beyond Academics
At the core of all my teaching lies my teaching philosophy that academics aside, I also have a duty to help students to build compassion, strong character and positive disposition towards learning. To do this, it is crucial that I 1) understand my class dynamics and students’ learning profiles; 2) create a kind, safe and conducive learning environment where students are not afraid to make mistakes and ask questions; and 3) build resilience in my students so they are equipped to deal with setbacks.
With these in place, I read up on and thereafter, carefully curated available DI strategies, making modifications to suit my teaching and students’ learning preferences. I realized that I could use DI as a vehicle to give my students a choice and a voice where they can learn to make decisions and verbalize their thoughts. It empowers my students to take greater ownership of their learning and enables them to grow into self-directed learners through collaborative learning.
Giving and Making Choices
Before implementing a new strategy, I would explain my expectations and routines explicitly to my students. After some experimentation, I found and modified DI strategies to suit my teaching style and philosophy. I feel that a combination of DI with open-ended tasks imbues in my students critical-thinking and decision-making skills, and creativity – skills which I think are essential to them in the long run.
In general, I implement DI in my classroom by providing students with the autonomy to decide:
- how (and who) they would like to work (with) (i.e., individually, in pairs, or groups);
- the number of tasks they would like to work on;
- the number of responses/solutions to provide for each task; and
- where they would like to work.
Additionally, I found it useful to scaffold my students’ learning by providing them with different options. Learners who feel they need more help can make a conscious decision to modify one of the given exemplars, and more advanced learners can challenge themselves to produce an original piece of work. This helped my students to feel safe and unpressured to perform, giving them the time and space to create with little inhibition.
To consolidate their learning, my students were given opportunities to present their learning and reflection in a form they preferred from a non-exhaustive list provided. I was surprised that many of my students actually took the time and effort to create comics, jokes and/or riddles to demonstrate their understanding. They shared that they enjoyed these DI tasks which, I think, helped them to develop positive dispositions towards the subject. This in turn, enabled them to enjoy the learning process and for me, the teaching process, as we grow together.