With the heavy demands and time constraints placed on teachers, it sometimes seem nearly impossible to adjust teaching techniques, habits, and routines, even when we know it is essential in order to better engage our students. Here are 5 easy ways to get started on the path of differentiation, even if you are new at it:
1. Use the practice of grouping students together based on likenesses. By doing this, you can differentiate assignments and activities easily based on scaffolded support and structure, level of abstraction, readiness skills, and level of complexity. This simple technique allows you to reach the same learning standard, meet individual student needs, and allows students an opportunity to work together on assignments.
2. Use technology to allow all students multiple ways to access and learn information. Implementing a variety of technology tools can liven a dull class quickly, especially when students are able to choose how they access and learn information. Choices enable students to use their most comfortable learning style and turn your classroom into a place where everyone can learn comfortably. Some effective tools include the smart pen, smart board, a variety of free websites and tools, and the use of personal mobile devices.
3. Implement a choice board or tic-tac-toe board to allow students choices with instructional activities or products. The choice board or tic-tac-toe board is simply a grid format in which you may present a variety of learning activities designed to reach the same learning goal or standard. Offering students choices in their learning is a large intrinsic motivator and allows students to express their uniqueness in a safe way.
4. Create differentiated workstations. Differentiated workstations focus on the same learning standards, but involve a variety of activities based on the needs of individual students. In this manner, specific students are sent to specific stations where they can complete work based on their specific needs. Workstations normally include activities students are already familiar with and need to be well planned with directions. A variation on this might be that students include students visiting all stations with a passport or chart. In this case, activities at each station would need to be differentiated.
5. Use anchor activities creatively to extend student learning. Anchor activities are meaningful assignments available for students who complete work early. They should be connected to important curriculum, allow for independent work, and be meaningful to the student. Anchor activities should involve some element of student choice and be engaging in nature.
Moving toward differentiation in your teaching can feel overwhelming many different techniques are used at once. Start with one technique and try others as you feel comfortable implementing them. Thing most important thing is to dive in and start somewhere!