How to Differentiate Instruction

Differentiated instruction is a strategy used by educators to meet the special needs of students. While its use is more prominent in special education classrooms, it is also an important strategy for modern classrooms that consist of diverse cultures, learning styles and academic challenges. A differentiated instructional approach increases the likelihood of successful learning for a classroom of individuals with varied needs. Here are some ways to differentiate instruction in a classroom.


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    Vary the pace of instruction. Assess the learning speed of each student. Students learn at varying rates, with some grasping the material immediately, and others requiring content repetition. The brain needs some degree of challenge to stay stimulated, and new skills are better grasped when an activity is not too easy or too difficult. Break up the classroom into groups based on learning speed.
    • Increase the amount and depth of the workload for advanced students. Moving too slowly creates boredom and serves only as information review for advanced students.
    • Allow slower learners to take more time with assignments. Frustration with a fast pace inhibits learning and leads to a lack of focus for slower learners.
    • Use tools, such as interactive instructional software and workbooks, to allow students to learn at their own pace.
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    Appeal to students' personal interests. High interest levels in a subject matter accelerate the learning process and lead to greater information retention. When teaching math, for example, use word problems that connect students to real world experiences, using the names of stores and products they know and use. Assign writing exercises that involve application of material to the student's personal life, challenges and hobbies.
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    Adapt your lessons to meet the cultural and language needs of students. In some cultures, content is taught by storytelling and hands-on activity, rather than in a lecture format. Students for whom the language of instruction is not their native tongue may learn at a slower speed. Language barriers may also result in gaps of knowledge due to limited vocabulary.
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    Assign homework and classroom activities based on ability. Tutors and teacher's aides can assist this process by working with students one-on-one and in groups.
    • Provide step-by-step instructions to slower learners. Repeat information when necessary. Place fewer demands on slower learners, allowing them to answer fewer questions and spend more time on each task.
    • Model tasks and provide examples for the average learner. Encourage average learners to engage in independent work.
    • Challenge advanced students. Assign more complicated tasks and encourage advanced students to study the content in greater depth.
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    Reward students based on individualized progress. Avoid highlighting the gifted students repeatedly. Celebrate the degree of effort exerted by each student and the amount of progress. A slow learner who painstakingly masters a difficult skill should be rewarded. A gifted student who learns the skill in just a few seconds should be highlighted only when he achieves greater degrees of his inherent potential.

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Categories: Creating Lesson Plans | Teaching Students with Special Needs