The Do’s and Don’ts of Differentiating Instruction

#1. Do Get to Know your Students First

Knowing your students is the first step to differentiating your teaching. With a better understanding of your students’ strengths and weaknesses, you can ask the following questions: What do they need? How do they learn best? How can I challenge them in the right way? What would help them succeed? Although finding this out can prove a challenge, by taking the time to analyze each student’s learning, testing out different methods, and incorporating technology to help manage the task, you’ll soon find you know more than you think.

#2. Don’t Take on Too Much by Yourself

One of the biggest mistakes educators make when it comes to differentiating is taking on too much, all at once. Attempting to juggle different resources, activities, tests and assignments on a manual basis is guaranteed to end in tears. While every student deserves to be differentiated from the next, one person can only do so much. Differentiation requires in-depth planning and preparation above all else, so find the tools that work for you, and get organized. Remember not to commit to doing something on a continuous basis if you’re not sure it’s sustainable.

#3. Do Use Technology to Help Manage your Workload

Technology can do wonderful things for a teacher embarking on differentiation. As you watch your workload expand, it’s easy to lose sight of why you ever signed up. Luckily, there are a number of tools available that will make your tasks seem a lot more manageable, and a lot less daunting. Learning analytics for example can help you track student progress and performance in a way that saves you time, and keeps you on top, while a personalization engine can work alongside each student as an added support.

#4. Don’t Focus Too Much on Grades and Test Scores

To many, differentiated instruction means different tests and resources. To me, it means different learning paths. By focusing too much on grades and test scores, we overlook the very reason we invest in differentiated instruction: to cater to student needs. While some students strive under the pressure of exams, others regress. By creating a more collaborative space that incorporates project-based and inquiry-based learning, you can focus on new ways of assessing learners, providing as much choice as possible to appeal to their interests.

#5. Do Give Competency-based Progression and Personalization a Try

In 21st century education, you cannot discuss differentiated assessment without mentioning competency-based progression and personalization. With adaptive systems now personalizing the learning process for every student in a classroom, assessing them through demonstrated mastery of competencies, differentiation has never been as effective. By combining the two, systems like Fishtree are making it possible to reach every single student on a one-to-one level. Differentiating with this technology gives you a much broader reach when it comes to meeting the needs of your students, even reducing your workload significantly.

#6. Don’t Spend an Obscene Amount of Time Searching for Resources

One of the biggest challenges educators face when differentiating their instruction is finding the right resources. Now having to search the web for a range of resources in various modes, the time you spend on preparation is sure to increase. What many fail to realize is that by using an all-in-one system, you can find millions of resources in a variety of modes, through one search engine. Not only this, the content is aligned to grade level and standard for your convenience.

#7. Do Provide as Much Choice and Flexibility as Possible

The main idea behind differentiation is that students learn in different ways. However, this also means they need to be able to demonstrate their learning in different ways. To ensure your students are both learning and demonstrating their learning in a way that works best for them, you need to provide as much choice and flexibility as possible. This means giving students an option in almost everything that you do. By letting them choose from a range of diverse options, you not only gain new insights into each of your students, they find out more about themselves. No matter what topic you’re embarking on, or what objective you’re tackling, provide choice, choice and more choice.

Image credits: ludi / CC BY 2.0
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