Thursday, April 19, 2012

Four Important Concepts of Differentiation

There are four important concepts that help shape a differentiated classroom. Consider all four as you think about differentiation in your classroom or school. They are:
  • Flexibility
The hallmark of a differentiated classroom is flexibility. Teachers skilled in differentiation must be flexible in their planning, flexible in how they structure groups, flexible in how they teach to various learning styles and modalities, and flexible in how fast or slow they proceed according to the individual learner. While flexibility is essential, it is also difficult because school systems prescribe the number of hours of instruction and the number of days in the school year or grading period. Some even stipulate the unit or pages of a textbook that must be covered within a given week.

Whatever the outside constraints, it is important to keep a flexible mind set. Try teaching in new ways. Give students multiple opportunities for learning. Be continuously creative in your teaching. This is all a part of flexibility.
  • Planning
All good teaching requires planning. This is certainly true in a differentiated classroom where you must look beyond the grade-level standards and curriculum and focus on the learning needs of each student. Without careful planning, learning time can be wasted or the classroom can quickly degenerate into chaos.

On the other hand, no teacher has unlimited planning time. Most teachers are stretched with all the obligations and duties that are part of teaching in today’s schools.
  • Resources
A differentiated curriculum requires many different resources. This may be quite a change if you have been using one text book, with every child on the same page. Most schools already have many resources that are appropriate for differentiated classrooms. Rediscover the books, workbooks, manipulatives, computer software, and reference materials in your classroom, book room, or file cabinets. Ask your self how you can use these materials to meet the needs of individuals or small groups of students.

Know what resources your school has. Often teachers have access to plenty of resources but need to spend time locating and organizing them and then choosing the ones that are appropriate to use. This is time well-spent and in the long run will save you planning time. Ask your school media specialist to help you find the resources you need for a differentiated unit or lesson. He or she is often your best human resource in locating other resources.

An excellent web site for locating many resources useful in differentiating curriculum and instruction is Log on to find resources in various categories, grade levels, and subject areas.
  • Choices
Learning activities in a differentiated classroom often involve student choices. These choices include products and performances based on learning styles, learning modalities, Bloom’s Taxonomy, or multiple intelligences. This does NOT mean giving students unstructured or unlimited choices. It DOES mean having a set of standards-based activities from which they can choose, at least some of the time.

A word of caution – some students think that having choices means they can do nothing if they so choose. Learning time is simply too valuable. The one choice you never have is the choice to do nothing!