Differentiation in the classroom is the idea that because students learn differently, teachers should employ more than one way of instructing to help all of their students learn most effectively. Though it is a challenge for one teacher to effectively meet the needs of 25 to 30 students, teachers can help students learn, grow and develop by going beyond their standard curricula with various activities designed to engage students with different learning styles.
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Planning and Preassessment
Effective differentiation strategies start with planning. Before starting any new lesson, and while planning your lessons for the upcoming year or session, determine: what you want students to learn or be able to accomplish; who already knows the information or can perform the task; and what you can do to help students progress and continue learning. Assess students' initial abilities and knowledge with written quizzes, class discussions and oral exams. How teachers assess their students' aptitude is not as important as actually doing it; the two most critical factors in helping students learn effectively involve determining what they already know and how they process information.
Adjusting and Compacting
During group discussions, teachers can differentiate subject matter so that all students participate effectively. Ask a mixture of questions with higher level or more complex questions aimed at students who can handle them, and simpler questions for students able to handle those. Follow this same practice for written quizzes with different groupings of questions assigned to students with various levels of comprehension. Compact curriculum so that problem-solving activities are available for students who quickly master the curriculum. While those students work on solving problems, teachers continue to provide instruction to students still trying to grasp the subject matter.
Acceleration and Deceleration
Another differentiation strategy is to accelerate or decelerate the pace of instruction based upon students' comprehension. Tier assignments so that students able to understand more quickly can move through the subject matter at an accelerated rate, while students still wrestling with the information have more time to move through the curriculum. This prevents faster students from becoming bored and disengaged and prevents slower students from becoming frustrated and giving up.
Identify Learning Styles
Identifying how students learn most effectively and then tailoring conditions to those preferences is another differentiation strategy. Discern which students prefer quiet and lower lighting, and create a section of the classroom for them. Determine which students learn best by hearing information, seeing information and concrete examples, or by moving while learning. Make curricula flexible enough to accommodate these three learning styles, and give students freedom to learn in the manner best suited for them. At all times, remember the goal of differentiation: to help every student learn as much as she can so that no child is truly left behind.
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