Special Education Spotlight: Incorporating Differentiated Instruction in the Classroom

Special Education Spotlight: Incorporating Differentiated Instruction in the Classroom

What is Differentiated Instruction?

Differentiated instruction is an approach to teaching that advocates active planning for student differences in classrooms but DI is not a set of instruction strategies, all children doing the same thing all the time, all children doing different things all the time, or students in the classroom doing the same activities at their own pace. There are multiple gears that function together to make differentiation work: environment of your classroom, instruction or how you teach, curriculum, and assessment of your students' work and their ability to assess their own work.

Four Classroom Elements

The underlying premise of differentiation is to ensure that all students are working at the appropriative level of challenge. Teachers can differentiate at least four different classroom elements based on student readiness, interest, or learning profile.

  1. The first approach is through the content a student needs to learn or how a student will access the content. When teachers differentiate content, they're typically changing WHAT the student is learning. Example: a teacher may provide some students with leveled text on a topic the rest of the class is working on while at the same time allowing other students to engage in a more complex, deeper understanding of that same topic.
  2. The next approach to differentiation involves the processes or activities in which students engage. When teachers differentiate the process, they’re adapting tasks to support each student’s mastery of the curriculum. Example: a teacher may have some students practicing math facts with a buddy, others playing a math facts computer game, and the rest of the class creating their own flashcards for additional individual practice.
  3. The third approach involves culminating projects or products that ask students to rehearse, apply, and extend what they’ve learned. When teachers differentiate products, they’re giving students various options to demonstrate their knowledge of the curriculum. Example: if a class has just finished a science unit about plants, the teacher may provide options for the students to show what they have learned by creating a PowerPoint presentation, making a poster, or creating a book that could be read to younger students.
  4. Finally, the learning environment itself can be differentiated to ensure students feel safe taking ownership of and risks in their learning. Example: you might create places for students to work in the classroom without distraction while also having other areas designated for working collaboratively. By providing students with clear guidelines for working independently, you’ll be giving them the necessary support to be successful regardless of how they approach learning.

Overall, differentiation is responsive teaching rather than one-size-fits-all teaching. It’s so important that you’re responsive to your ever-changing and diverse student population.

When a teacher creates an environment that’s responsive and respectful to students, greater learning outcomes occur. When students are given a choice, know routines, and are in control of their learning, the spark of learning grows and creativity is fostered!

For more on differentiated instruction and how to identify which students need something differentiated, check out the course Differentiated Instruction in the Instruction and Learning course category or request a demo below! We offer a variety of courses designed for educators who support students from early childhood through transition services.

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