3 Powerful Strategies For Effective Differentiated Instruction Copy

You don’t even need a big class to see diverse learners in a classroom, you could have a class of five students and each one could experience a different level of struggle when learning. With different students you need different methods to teach them, there isn’t really ever a “one size fits all” solution for this! This is why we urge teachers to use differentiated instruction in the classroom to cater a group of diverse learners. Differentiated instruction can be done by balancing between direct instructions and cooperative learner, by provide students with structured and tiered assignments, and having students jot down journals about their experiences or thoughts of the class!

You're happy when you see attentive students or passionate learners in your class, but in the same classroom, you’ve also got wandering minds, sleepy brains... Ever wondered why?

Where some students can focus on your lectures, some other students might be struggling to attain knowledge without something fun. This is when you have to realize the traditional "one-size-fits-all" approach can never really 'fit all'.

' "One-Size-Fits-All" does not fit all, instead, differentiated instruction does.'

To cater for learner diversity, differentiated instruction is the way out. But how?

Try out the following tricks!

1. Balance Direct Instruction and Cooperative Learning

"Planning group activities takes time so I prefer direct instruction."

"But direct instruction sometimes lull my students to their dreamlands." 🤔

These being the common teacher sentiments, do you think the same? Just about recently, the popular direct instruction teaching approach is getting a bad rap. Teachers were told they needed to be “the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.” Yet, research indicates that direct instruction, if done correctly, is more effective for students' learning than group work done incorrectly. That being said, group work provides a chance for students to work together and share ideas, which effect cannot be achieved by direct instruction. So, at the end of the day, as some students prefer lectures and some prefer class activities, a hybrid of direct instruction and cooperative learning is what we should do.

At this point, one thing to note is that - cooperative learning is not the same as group work. Sometimes, you may notice students are actually working individually during group work time as they might be planning to put the jigsaw pieces together only at the very last moment. However, cooperative learning emphasises on giving equal opportunities for students in the group to engage and learn from each other - they should be working on each puzzle piece together instead of separately.

Now, try the followings to create a hybrid of direct instruction and cooperative learning in your classroom:

  1. Some students have short attention span - Try to cut your lecture into short segments by building in short breaks every 10-15 minutes. These breaks help students to process the knowledge just being taught.
  2. Make well use of the breaks - Incorporate cooperative learning activities to check for students' understanding and encourage peer learning. Useful strategies include: "Think-Pair-Share", which no one will be left out with the small grouping of 2; "Gallery walk", which all students can be easily engaged as they walk through the classroom to finish small tasks; and "Rally Coach", which students can give and receive feedback from their classmate.
"Think-Pair-Share" strategy
"Gallery Walk" strategy
"Rally Coach" strategy

2. Structure Tiered Assignments

As students learn at different rates and have different abilities, to meet the needs of each student, it is necessary to vary the level of difficulty of assignments. One simple approach is by handing out 'tiered assignments'.

There are a few ways to structure tiered assignments, but generally, teachers cluster students into 2-3 groups according to their ability or level of readiness to a topic and assign each group a different task.

Based on the type of tasks you're planning to assign, you will need to choose a different way to tier your assignments:

  1. Challenge level - Different groups of students will tackle different level of assignments on the same topic.
  2. Process - Different groups of students will use different processes to achieve a similar outcome for the same/ similar task.
  3. Product - Different groups of students will be asked to finish entirely different tasks but within the same topic.
  4. Resources - Provide different groups of students with different resources to finish the same/ similar task.

3. Ask For Journals From Students

After attending lectures, class activities or after finishing assignments or projects, students should reflect on what they've learnt and organise the information in a journal. This can effectively become a great tool for students to look back on their learning journey during revision time, and more importantly, for you to differentiate your students.

You should ask your students to hand in their learning journal from time to time by having them:

  • Summarise key points they’ve learnt
  • Give answers to some questions you assigned
  • Suggest any activities/ changes that they want in class
  • Basically anything you would like to know from them :)

As they continue to make entries, they'll soon figure out the best way which allow them to effectively process fresh content, and you'll be able to learn more about your students and fine-tune your teaching - killing two birds with one stone.

The above 3 are just a few tips out of a myriad of ways to get rid of 'one-size-fits-all' and move onto the differentiated instruction era. At Fan{task}tic, we're leveraging technology to offer you new methods to cater for learner diversity. If you're interested, try out our solutions!