Meeting the Needs of Every Student with
Theresa London Cooper
Differentiating Instruction in the Regular
Classroom: How to Reach and Teach All Learners, Grades 3-12 by Diane Heacox
How To Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability
Classrooms, 2nd Edition by
Carol Ann Tomlinson
Each time you provide
a student with extra help, more time, or a modified
assignment, you’re differentiating instruction.
All good teachers, whether they realize it or not, differentiate
to some degree. -- Diane
Last month’s article focused on the importance of assessment giving particular
attention to “kid watching” as a type of
informal assessment that can yield a great deal of information
about the learner’s strengths, areas of need,
interests, readiness levels and much more. As teachers
we sometimes wonder, once we have collected and analyzed
the information, how do we address the various needs
of our students?
The answer to this question is a challenge to many
competent and caring teachers. Differentiated instruction
is one effective way to address the needs of our students.
Based on what I have seen over the years when visiting
classrooms, it is my guess that in some form, teachers
are differentiating instruction without attaching the
label to the method. According to Dr. Heacox (2002)
all good teachers have already implemented differentiated
instruction in one way or another. It is my hope that
this article will provide a clearer understanding of
the process of differentiating instruction so that as
teachers, we may become more deliberate and thoughtful
about how we meet the needs of the various kinds of
learners in our classrooms.
I like the way Tomlinson (2001) describes differentiated
instruction: at its most basic level differentiated
instruction means “shaking up” what goes
on in the classroom so that students have multiple options
for taking in information (content), making sense of
ideas (process), and expressing what they learn (product).
As I visit classrooms, I see how the Balanced Literacy
Approach lends itself to this type of teaching. Teachers
provide a variety of grouping options for their students
- whole group, triads, quads and pairs, as well as individual.
While the students are working, teachers are free to
conference with a select number of students to monitor
their progress and understanding, which will later inform
future assignments. While conferencing, teachers determine
the appropriateness of the time given to complete the
assignments. Some students may require more time, others
less. In the differentiated classroom, flexible time
is a key feature in supporting students as they master
particular objectives. Well-prepared teachers can give
additional assignments to students who may complete
their work before the allotted time has expired. Tomlinson
calls these assignments “anchor activities.”
Teachers also consider how they
may vary the content, process, and product to
meet their students’ interest, instructional
and independent levels and academic needs. In
the differentiated classroom, teachers decide
upon the key ideas that all students must possess
as a baseline of knowledge. For example, how could
a teacher present a unit of study on spiders?
In a traditional classroom a teacher might read
a story, discuss some facts and have the entire
class jot down a list of facts in the form of
a paragraph. Now, let us consider how a teacher
could broach the topic in a differentiated classroom.
S/he might begin with a shared reading to introduce
the topic of spiders to her students, thereby
familiarizing all of the students with the same
content. Students could continue their study using
trade books based on their independent reading
levels using a leveled library.
Examples of Addressing Learning Styles
Auditory learners: the teacher
could prepare tape-assisted readings about spiders.
The students would later present an oral report.
|Visual learners: Assign books to be read independently and then
use the Four Square Writing
Method to compose a well-constructed essay
on what they have learned.
Square Writing Method – A step-by-step
approach to writing that uses a graphic organizer
to help students compose a coherent and organized
piece of writing. It is often used with struggling
and tactile learners: the teacher could
provide pictures and small plastic models of spiders.
These learners would then be encouraged to use
colored pencils and crayons to draw and label
the various parts of the spider.
Kinesthetic learners: assign video about spiders and then have the students
dramatize what they learned.
There are various ways to help students process information.
Imagine their share-out time, which is essential to
celebrating and bringing closure to the study of an
activity or unit. The aforementioned activities could
help students produce lively oral reports, engaging
essays, colorful and informative drawings and a dramatization
of their study of spiders. How is that for energizing
It is important to note that in a differentiated classroom,
the teacher is NOT planning for each individual student;
this would be impractical in a regular education classroom.
But the teacher is considering the various learners
in his/her class and their primary mode of learning
so that every learner has more opportunities to learn
however s/he learns best. If you are looking for a way
to energize your classroom, read the recommended books
to gather additional information on how you can implement
differentiated instruction. Begin small. In fact, if
you have a leveled library in your classroom that the
students use on a regular basis, you have already begun
differentiating instruction. Think about what Tomlinson
refers to as low preparation differentiation. Perhaps
you might want to give students homework options wherein
all students complete particular portions while they
also choose one or two other assignments you provide.
This is also a great way to find out what your students
enjoy and understand and what they find challenging.
Remember, assessment is the foundation of an effective
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