5 Quick and Easy Ways to Differentiate Instruction
Every teacher wants to be able to differentiate instruction easily and effectively. Each kid in a classroom has their own learning style, their own strengths and weaknesses, and requires their own curriculum. How can teachers possibly provide individualized, differentiated instruction to a class of 15, 20 or even 30 students? Read more to learn 5 quick and easy ways you can differentiate instruction TODAY.
Wondering What is differentiated instruction?
According to Carol Ann Tomlinson of Reading Rockets “differentiation means tailoring instruction to meet individual needs. Whether teachers differentiate content, process, products or the learning environment, the use of ongoing assessment and flexible grouping makes this a successful approach to instruction.” You can read more here.
Are you overwhelmed with that definition? I know I am! In my classroom things move a mile a minute and if I don’t have a plan for each kid, they have a plan for me. But, even the best laid plans can get thrown out the window. I cannot tell you how many times I created an independent assignment only to have it be anything but and I had to differentiate the instruction on the fly!
Why do you need to differentiate instruction?
Differentiated instruction is giving each kid what they need to challenge them. Yes, your advanced kids needs differentiated instruction too! Daniel H. Pink asks a thought provoking question about motivation in our youth: “are you bribing [your students] into compliance or challenging them into engagement?”. Differentiated instruction is your key to successful classroom management, because when each student has challenging work they are engaged and focused. (Did I blow your mind? Because this was LIFE CHANGING for me!)
When you differentiate instruction you also increase student growth and success because you are teaching in a way they can access the material and build upon previous knowledge. Differentiating instruction is an exploration into the student mind where you support connections and growth.
So, now that you know what differentiated instruction is and why you need it how can you possibly accomplish this all in your classroom? Especially when your first leveled activity was a bust? Well, your answers are here! Here are 5 quick and easy ways to differentiate instruction in a busy classroom!
Here’s how to easily differentiate instruction!
Highlighters are my go to for easily differentiating instruction. I can highlight a target sentence I want the student to focus on, mark the proper lines for cutting in a craft, have them trace the words using proper letter formation, have them mark a target word in a book…the possibilities are endless for differentiating instruction! Highlighters are also FUN! My students are obsessed with highlighters and I mean OBSESSED. They love when I break out the highlighter to support their work. I make sure I have access to one at all times – usually in my back pocket so I can differentiate instruction on the fly!
Blank paper is a MUST HAVE when wanting to differentiate instruction. Second only to my highlighter, this is a tool I use every single day in my classroom to meet students instructional level. Struggling on a worksheet? Put a piece of blank paper to cover all but the chosen problems to limit what the student sees. Getting overwhelmed when reading? Put a paper over the portion they are not reading yet. Need an example? Throw one on a blank piece of paper for the student to reference. Having trouble thinking of a topic to write? Draw a few pictures on a piece of paper to support the students stories. When wanting to differentiate instruction, you cannot go wrong with a blank piece of paper! Always readily available, when you’re struggling to differentiate instruction for a student grab that paper (and highlighter!).
While these take a bit more prep, I always have a set of leveled readers to go for all reading abilities in my class. I love when I find a set of leveled readers that are the same story so I can give each kid their own, leveled copy, and differentiate instruction while teaching whole group and encouraging peer to peer conversations. I also use partner reading for my lower level readers to access a higher level text, and have conversations with their classmates about it. Then, the students swap and my lower reader teachers something they are an expert at so not only am I able to differentiate instruction but each student is able to share their knowledge! Here are some of my favorite leveled readers – featuring both seasonal and decodable stories!
Having Choice in the Classroom
I have a lot of key phrases in my classroom but one of the most used ones I say is “You are in charge of your learning”. The kids get to make the decisions. We can provide them with the opportunity to learn, but it’s up to them to do the learning. Having choice in the classroom puts kids in charge of their learning and allows them to differentiate their own instruction. Want to sit? Great. Prefer standing? Awesome. Learning sight words – would you like to build, read or write? While I will guide students if I notice they are picking the same activity over and over again, it’s important to give your students choices whenever possible. When you give your students choices, you are differentiating the instruction to their learning level while also challenging them into engagement.
Small Group Instruction
Arguably the most effective, and yet the most challenging, tool to differentiate instruction is running consistent small group instruction. Meeting with students in a small group targeting a specific skill is the most effective path for student growth and success, especially when learning how to read! When you plan engaging, challenging whole group activities you can teach your students to be independent and self-sufficient while you differentiate instruction in small groups. Your small groups don’t have to be long! Short, sweet and to the point but you are able to provide quality instruction at the students level! Teacher tip: start with the students you think may have trouble getting started on the whole group task. That way you can differentiate their instruction before they begin to keep them engaged and on task while they meet with the rest of the group! Learn more about running effective small groups here.
Use these 5 easy ways to differentiate instruction the next time you see your students!
Looking for leveled activities to further your ability to differentiate instruction? Check out these below!