Just as students have different personalities and preferences, so too do their learning styles, abilities and progress differ. Differentiated instruction caters to these differences among students in order to ensure they receive targeted and relevant help to truly make meaningful progress in their learning. Whether a student is falling behind on a topic or racing ahead, differentiation helps every student achieve to the best of his or her potential.
At its most basic level, differentiating instruction means “shaking up” what goes on in the classroom so that students have multiple options for taking in information, making sense of ideas, and expressing what they learn. In other words, a differentiated classroom provides different avenues to acquiring content, to processing or making sense of ideas, and to developing products so that each student can learn effectively.
– Differentiation expert Carol Ann Tomlinson (source)
Benefits of differentiation
1. Students are empowered to achieve
Personalizing teaching for students based on their learning needs not only gives them a clear signal that their teacher cares for them, but also gives them the right tools to achieve their fullest potential.
2. No student is left behind
Without differentiation, students who can’t keep up with the rest of their peers may struggle to pay attention in class and complete assignments on time, because of gaps in their knowledge or understanding of a topic. Differentiated instruction caters to students of varying abilities, and thus ensures that weaker students are able to progress in their learning too.
3. Diversity is appreciated
In a differentiated classroom, difference and diversity is celebrated rather than looked down upon. As Tomlinson puts it, ‘student differences … become important elements in teaching and learning’ (source).
4. Students are engaged and motivated
We’re all familiar with the student who zones out because he’s frustrated by not being able to keep up, or the one who thinks he’s too good to complete an activity with everyone else because he’s done it before . Differentiated instruction pre-empts this by ensuring that students are presented with activities and materials that they are comfortable with, but also challenged by. In this way, they are much more likely to stay engaged!
Basic steps to differentiate
So, how does one actually practice differentiation? We’ve broken it down into three key steps:
1. Formatively assess students
To be able to differentiate learning, teachers must first grasp where their students are in terms of level of understanding of a topic or mastery of a skill. There are tons of ways to do this, from exit tickets to quizzes. Quizalize makes it easy for teachers to conduct fun quizzes as formative assessments and even breaks down what exactly students need help with by tracking student mastery of skills:
2. Choose how to differentiate instruction
According to Tomlinson, there are 4 things that can be modified to accommodate different learners (source):
- Content: Learning materials, textbooks, worksheets, etc.
- Process: The activities students engage in
- Products: The final, completed work students submit
- Learning environment
Quizalize makes it easy to assign students different follow-up activities based on their score on a quiz. Learn how to do it here.
After students have completed their differentiated activities, it’s important for teachers to check in with students to see if they’re made improvements. One way to do this is by having students retake a quiz. Quizalize tracks student improvements across multiple attempts of a test, helping you measure which differentiated resources are most beneficial for students.
Check out this video for how to differentiate with Quizalize:
Keep an eye out for our next post, where we’ll be sharing some practical examples on how to differentiate!