Eduporium Weekly | Differentiated Instruction Makes a Difference

  • Posted on: July 15, 2017 - 8:08am
  • By: alarmand

The fact is that not all students learn in the same ways. Some are visual learners. Others need to hear things multiple times before it sticks. And, still others require a hands-on component so they can learn by doing. There is no wrong way when it comes to students’ learning style preferences and 21st century teachers have taken notice of this. Many educators and curriculum creators have created differentiated learning programs in their schools so that each student can receive personalized instruction that works best for them. It’s not always easy, but, these days, teachers are willing to do whatever it takes to prepare their students for an uncertain future.


Using Technology to Enhance Differentiated Instruction


There are a couple of things we know about differentiated instruction in modern-day education: one thing is that it’s been proven to be effective. Another is that technology helps make it effective. That all sounds well and good, right? Of course it’s not that simple, though. Although technology can play a huge role in making differentiated learning easier to implement, it’s still an incredibly tall task for teachers to create custom content for a number of different students as this essentially involves a number of personalized lesson plans. They also have to deal with managing how the different lessons all play out in the classroom while dealing with limited classroom time, they’re going up against a huge curriculum and need to find a way to align the differentiation with requirements, and there’s also those increasing demands of classroom management they must contend with.


Well, this sounds like a pretty steep challenge and it’s no wonder some districts are hesitant about implementing it. Like always, though, technology is here to help save time and assist teachers as they create meaningful learning experiences for each one of their students. And, as in every case, strategic tech integration is the key to making differentiated instruction work well. It requires patience, planning, and a fairly sizable investment of time. It’s important for teachers to use the right technology tools when they’re differentiating instruction, so be sure to look for things that help illustrate specific learning objectives, provide the opportunity for formative assessments, and enable interactive learning activities for all groups of students.


Teachers must also learn how to pick up on and understand each of their students’ learning habits and preferences. Knowing exactly what students need is a huge help when it comes to personalizing instruction. Teachers can use digital tools to administer diagnostic tests and leverage various online sources to pool content from a number of different places before creating personalized learning resources. Then, using the information they have collected from the diagnostic tests and classroom observations, teachers can create groups of students who will work well together and who have similar learning styles and needs. Then, be sure to continue using technology in the activity portion of the class and always try to offer each student individual feedback so they know exactly where and how they can improve!


Making Differentiation Possible with EdTech


It’s becoming more and more necessary for contemporary teachers to master the concept of differentiation rather than just being familiar with it. In fact, it’s been a while now since they’ve been able to comfortably ignore it. Since differentiation, by definition, is learning that’s geared towards meeting each individual student at their points of need, it can get tough to institute. To find the ways that each student learns best, teachers need to use every resource at their disposal. Whether teachers are designing visual, auditory, kinesthetic learning, or something else, EdTech provides them with more resources for reaching each student and creating better learning outcomes.


The technology that’s available nowadays makes differentiated learning much more accessible for both teachers and students. It’s come a long way - just as personalized learning has - and can be integrated fairly seamlessly into most classrooms (though it does still take a good amount of time to create a number of differentiated lesson plans). As we stated, some students learn best visually, some by hearing things, and others through hands-on exploration. Still other students are musical rhythmic learners and some can be logical mathematical learners as well. Science tells us that there are at least five different kinds of learners and statistics say that there is probably at least one of each in every K-12 classroom. So, why should they all be given the exact same instruction?


Technology can help each of these kinds of learners absorb content and develop skills more effectively. There are STEM tools that speak to auditory learners and similar ones for visual students. Kinesthetic learners can enjoy a wide variety of benefits from project-based learning and there is even plenty of technology available for musical rhythmic learners. The best part is you can find something for everyone right on our store! As differentiation continues to evolve and becomes  a school requirement, it’s incredibly important that educators understand there is technology available to help them out and that they know where to look to find the best tools for their students. Technology is a great avenue for adapting learning styles that encompass the most important 21st century skills.


Strategies for Differentiated Instruction in PBL


Project-based learning, like differentiated learning, is another popular and profitable education trend. In PBL, it’s perhaps easier than in traditional classrooms for teachers to empower differentiated learning. PBL naturally lends itself to creating an environment in which differentiated learning can grow and thrive. Since PBL is student-centered by design and student-driven, it gives teachers the opportunity to meet kids where they are instead of requiring all children to congregate in one meeting place. In PBL, differentiation benefits students in a few different ways, mainly by refining daily instructional management and providing the chance for personalized assessments in the classroom. There are a few ways teachers can go about this and we’ll cover some for you right now.


One of the best ways teachers can differentiate instruction in PBL is to create strategic student teams. Depending on what kind of project is being done, teachers can select groups based on reading level, math proficiency, social-emotional levels, or whatever they see fit. It’s also important that teachers consider what reflection will be like for students in the groups they’re assigned since it is such an important part of project-based learning. Reflection can take place both before and after the project is completed with the pre-project reflection being used as a time to set goals and the post-project reflection uncovering why the students were able to meet them or why they were not. Also, in PBL, there are many mini-lessons along the way. Some students may benefit from learning them while others might not. Teachers should try to determine if students in a particular group would benefit from a quick break to learn a new concept or reflect on something that just happened.


Some of the other ways teachers can differentiate learning in PBL is by giving students choice when it comes to the products they will be using and differentiating the formative assessments they use to measure progress. Some groups may do better with a short-answer assessment, while others might excel at multiple choice questions and a third group might be best suited with a verbal assessment, which is something interesting teachers should consider. And, when students get to choose which EdTech tools they’re working with, their passions tend to come out and they get more excited about the work they are doing with their classmates. Finally, teachers can dictate the time each group spends on collaborative work and mix in some individual work if that will help those students as well. Or, they can just stick to groups - whatever works best for the students in question!


Why Differentiation Can Lead to Powerful Instruction


By differentiating learning, teachers can create large amounts of versatility and more useful educational experiences for their students. We are constantly seeing the differences in learning styles among today’s students. It doesn’t take an expert to notice that almost all of them have their own preferred method for getting the most out of their classroom time. While personalized learning does raise a fair amount of questions, it’s incredibly beneficial for the children who learn best in ways other than what’s considered to be mainstream. As long as differentiated learning meets educational standards and students achieve the required outcomes, there is no reason to limit its use in the classroom.


The reason that personalization is such a powerful teaching method is because it helps teachers accomplish so much more than traditional instruction. It’s designed to focus on what students need rather than trying to stick to a one-size-fits-all model. It’s responsive to the various ways that students learn. It’s versatile and can be executed in many different ways (with more creative ones being thought of all the time). Personalized learning and differentiated instruction also allow teachers to focus solely on their students while finding a student-friendly balance between the needs of those students and the needs of themselves. Most importantly, differentiated instruction gives every student the chance to succeed without limiting their creativity or stifling the ways in which they learn best.


Some people are under the impression that differentiated instruction breaks away from standards, is just another form of group instruction, and even makes students lazy, Those assumptions are simply false. It’s also incorrect to assume that differentiated learning will not work. The traditional education model was created long ago when every student was being prepared for the same kinds of industrial jobs. Nowadays, there are so many STEM career opportunities with so much specialization required that it’s essentially impossible to prepare every student for the future by using a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s no secret that differentiated instruction requires patience, passion, and commitment, but allowing it to happen over time will greatly improve the likelihood of students excelling at what they hope to accomplish in the future.


Differentiating Instruction to Create More Inclusion


Not only do students learn in many different ways, they have unique sets of abilities as well. Some even have disabilities that teachers need to take into account when designing in-class lessons. Knowing how to leverage technology in a way that allows students to keep up with the rest of their classmates creates a positive force as a result of differentiation. To make inclusion a priority while also still differentiating instruction, teachers can use a few tricks to get it done. It starts with using technology to make class work more engaging and can evolve to include a wider spectrum and some more complex approaches.


Another way that teachers can use technology to their advantage is by making student groups smaller. Computers do not replace teachers in the classroom, but, rather, can help them be in two places at once. Teachers can record instructions for students to watch while they walk around and provide more in-depth guidance to some groups or individuals. Teachers can also use technology to make reading more appealing to those students who don’t have much interest in it or think it’s too challenging for their skill level. By replacing a textbook or a storybook with a digital version on a tablet, children are more likely to become and stay engaged with the story. Technology can even send different students in different directions simply by using it to create lessons that look the same on the surface, but may feature personalized content that’s catered to their learning styles and abilities on the inside.


The value of technology in differentiated learning is not found solely in enhancing engagement levels. There are plenty of benefits to be had even after the lessons are complete. Many EdTech tools provide students with either formal or informal feedback so they can see exactly where they’re at or where they need to improve. This helps bolster student growth for the children who need it and also lets others see the progress they have made. It offers teachers the same kind of instantaneous feedback so they’re able to quickly provide suggestions to students based on a few small clues. And, finally, EdTech can be used during remediation after differentiated lessons so students can reflect on how they did as well as providing a helpful tool for teachers to potentially rework student groups based on compatibility and skill level. All in all, students may require different tech tools, but differentiated instruction can have a profound effect on their skills and successes.


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