Maximizing Student Opportunities with Differentiated Instruction

By Taru Nieminen, M.A.T.             November 16, 2016

As stated in last week’s post, I believe that Differentiated Instruction is the presentation of ideas and knowledge so that each student has multiple avenues and opportunities to pursue success in the subject.

Some may ask: “Which subject?” The very profound yet simple answer is: “All subjects.”

Even after studying Differentiated Instruction for a while, many educators still ask: “What exactly is it and how can we use it effectively to help our students?”

Differentiated Instruction does take many forms, but here are the essentials in a lovely bulleted form:

  • Pre-assessment
  • Flexible Grouping
  • Adjusted Questions
  • Choices on Final Product
  • Scaffolding
  • Compacting with Enrichment
  • Independent Contracts
  • Anchoring Activities

Pre-assessment is an essential tool for every teacher at any level, even college! Pre-assessment gives you the framework to form flexible grouping, give product choices, compact, and scaffold/ adjust questions. I’m grouping scaffolding and adjusted questions together, because I believe they go hand in hand with each other, although there are subtle differences.

When forming flexible groups, ensure that you give clear guidelines as to how the group will be functioning. And remember to limit time in groups; 6 weeks should be the absolute maximum.

Adjusted Questions could piggy-back on Scaffolding, but let’s give its own hurrah here: All students need to be held accountable for learning the content, but how deep they go in their learning can be determined by their level of readiness. Adjusted Questions give students a specific avenue to travel through. You can easily adjust your questions by using Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Product Choice is my absolute favorite part of Differentiated Instruction! Student’s eyes literally light up (it’s a beautiful thing) when they realize they get to choose what and how to showcase what they’ve learned in a particular lesson. They truly think they’ve pulled the wool over your eyes. Choice is a powerful element.  (P.S. Always, always provide a rubric.)

Scaffolding is what most educators think of when they think of differentiation. Scaffolding offers struggling students the basic skills and eventually mastery in the concept being learned. Scaffolding includes: modified directions, manipulatives, leveled reading materials/ reading buddies, listening stations, modeling, and graphic organizers.

Should you scaffold all your lessons? Yes, but the scaffolding needs to happen so all students feel included – even the highly able learners. If you are using graphic organizers to engage your struggling students, for example, don’t exclude anyone! You never know if there is someone in your classroom who needs that “easy” out today. (I will talk about that specific issue in a later post.)

Compacting with Enrichment creates paths for high ability/ gifted students to accelerate their learning. When highly able learners (you would have figured out with pre-assessment as to who they are in your classroom) are given the opportunity to skip the repetitive drills and practice they obviously don’t need, they can accelerate their learning tenfold.

Contracts can be modified for either struggling or high achieving students. They can include independent reading contracts, enrichment activity folders, journals, and within these activities contain rewards, answer sheets, and detailed lists of accountability.

Anchoring Activities lets the student show you how they applied, analyzed, synthesized, and evaluated the information you taught them within a given concept. With Anchoring Activities, you can easily scan whether student(s) comprehended the overall idea and details as it relates to the topic. Anchoring Activities delves students deeper into the realm of the topic by completing activities when the regular classwork is done. For example, after reading Anne Frank, students find details relating to the Jewish community in the Netherlands during WW II.

P.S. Anchoring Activities can also be Product Choices where students create original products based on the concept and details of the theme learned. Remember to include and ask for several different types of products from each student, so that one doesn’t turn in five acrostic poems about one concept. Each product should be different and cover a different detail or area of the topic.

Share what types of activities your students have completed.

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