Classroom Practice

Teaching Models Series Part 6: Differentiated Instruction

Written by Natalie Gilbert

There are many different ways of approaching instruction in the classroom. Most teachers choose to deliver their lessons based on classroom resources, teaching styles and levels of comfort, and student preference. Some teachers like to mix up their instructional delivery throughout the year, while others stick to tried-and-true methods. If you are looking for an alternative teaching strategy, or like to be inspired by new ideas, then you will enjoy this series. During back-to-school season, we are focusing on six teaching models that can be implemented in your classroom.

Differentiated instruction is an instructional method that responds to the different needs of your students. One definition of differentiated instruction identifies these needs through three characteristics of the learner: readiness, interests, and learning preferences. In this model:

  • Readiness refers to the student’s beginning point for learning
  • Interests relate to the student’s experiences and passions
  • Learning preferences are the ways in which students acquire and process information. Learning preferences are influenced by a variety of factors, such as culture, environment, gender, learning styles and multiple intelligences.

Once we gather the information around our students’ readiness, interests, and learning preferences, we can adapt the learning environment, methods of instruction, assessments and evaluations to respond to their needs.

There are many benefits to differentiating instruction in your classroom, which include:

  • Engagement. By offering students choice, it fosters independence, improves decision-making skills, and values their interests, all of which lead to more engagement in the classroom.
  • Empowerment. Through skills inventories, assessments, and observations, students can begin to understand and develop their own learning preferences and interests. In turn, this empowers them to choose methods of learning that best suit their needs, experiences, and interests.
  • Accommodation. Differentiating instruction can help provide accommodations and make learning more accessible to students with learning exceptionalities.
  • Connection. When students are able to learn with their preferred methods and interests in mind, it helps them to better engage with the material and connect it to prior experiences and knowledge.

There are many ways to differentiate instruction within your classroom. First, you should assess the readiness, interests, and learning preferences of your students. You can do this through a number of skills-based inventories, in-class observations, and student self-assessments. Based on these results, you can determine a plan for differentiation in your classroom. This could include ensuring that you have a number of multi-sensory teaching materials and strategies to meet the needs of auditory, visual, and tactile learners in your class. One way is to set up
learning stations, or station rotations. This method offers multiple activities in independent and group settings, so that students are able to learn in different ways using a variety of resources. You can read more about learning stations here.

With the average class size in the United States at 21.2 students for elementary schools and 26.8 for secondary schools, differentiating instruction can seem like a daunting task. However, there are new tools to make differentiation easier and more manageable for your classroom.

Take a look at this infographic that explains the time that can be saved by using an online platform like Learning Bird to differentiate your instruction:

Differentiated Learning

Further Reading

Differentiating instruction can help to engage your students by allowing them to connect their learning to existing experiences, knowledge and interests from outside of the classroom. It can accommodate to the various needs and exceptionalities of your students, while empowering them to seek out the ways of learning that best suit them. If the concept of differentiating instruction seems difficult to scale in your classroom, there are tools like Learning Bird to assist you in the process. We hope you’ve enjoyed our series on teaching models and that your year is off to a great start! If you’ve applied any of these models in your classroom, we’d love to hear from you and perhaps even write up a feature about it for our blog.

Other articles in our Teaching Models Series:
Part 1: Blended Learning
Part 2: Learning Stations
Part 3: Flipped Classrooms
Part 4: 1:1
Part 5: BYOD

About the author

Natalie Gilbert

Natalie has spent the last five years working in both traditional and experiential education settings in Haiti, India, and South Korea. Her background is in journalism and education, and she is currently pursuing her M.A. in Educational Technology. She enjoys running, exploring new neighborhoods, and cooking.

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