Differentiated Instruction Strategies to Use in the Classroom

Whitney Gordon
Whitney Gordon
Special Education and English Teacher; Ed.S. in Teacher Leadership, Thomas University, GA
Smiling teacher sitting at a table with three students.

Differentiated instruction is likely a category on every teacher evaluation checklist in the country. Beyond being an evaluative component, differentiation is necessary in order to maximize student success. Our students have diverse academic needs, and it is up to us to ensure that each unique need is met. Differentiated instruction is one of the vehicles we use to meet these needs.

Why Differentiation is Important

Our students possess varying levels of academic ability, diverse life experiences, and a myriad of strengths, weaknesses, and interests. As such, it can be challenging for a teacher to give each student what he/she needs in order to exhibit growth in the classroom. Differentiation is a set of skills that allows a teacher to adequately support each student. This is important because every teacher’s goal should be student success, and student needs, while abounding, can be roadblocks to success when they are not met. Differentiated instruction makes what seems impossible possible — you can scaffold at different levels simultaneously.

How Differentiation Improves Classroom Management

Another reason that differentiated instruction is important is its positive impact upon classroom management. A well-managed classroom requires multiple components, and differentiation is a key component. When students feel they can be successful, they are more likely to put forth effort. Furthermore, when a teacher demonstrates a vested interest in a student’s needs, a student feels valued and is more likely to meet expectations.

Differentiation Strategies to Implement in  Your Classroom

There are three major ways to differentiate instruction: through content, process, or product.

  • Differentiating Content – When differentiating content, you utilize multiple methods to relay content to your students. For example, let’s say students must read an article. Student A is advanced and may read the article in its original format. Student B, who struggles with literacy, may receive the article formatted in chunks for easier understanding. Student C, who is an English language learner (ELL), may have the support of a translation app and pictures to go along with the text.
  • Differentiating Process – Process is how students digest and demonstrate understanding of information. Let’s revisit our three students. When it’s time to write a short summary to demonstrate comprehension, this process could look different for each student. Student A is advanced; thus he/she can write the paragraph on plain paper with just a prompt. Student B struggles with literacy and may benefit from a graphic organizer and/or sentence stems as support. Student C, our ELL, could also benefit from the supports that Student B receives. Depending upon his/her English proficiency, student C could also draw a picture to support the summary or write the paragraph in his/her native language and translate.
  • Differentiating Product – Differentiating product means diversifying the way that students demonstrate mastery. When Students A, B, and C are tasked with synthesizing the article with other sources, for example, they can do this in multiple ways. Perhaps the students can choose between a list of projects that require various levels of writing, creativity, and other skills. Another idea is for the teacher to assign different projects based upon the student’s ability and interests.

Differentiated instruction is a long-standing educational buzzword that can seem cliched due to its prevalence in education. We must remember that it is not just important, but crucial. Differentiation is one of the most valuable skills that a teacher can develop.

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