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A Peek Inside the Classroom: Differentiated Instruction

By: Permanent Substitute/Extended Day Supervisor José Holliday

December 18, 2018

I believe differentiated instruction to be a very important and effective tool for all teachers to use in their classrooms. There are two very good reasons to use differentiated instruction.

  1. Every student has the ability to learn, but there are many ways in which they learn best.
  2. The effectiveness of simply putting students together by ability has been questioned, and this practice can place negative views on student backgrounds.

A classroom that uses differentiated instruction recognizes the various student learning abilities and the many different styles to which they learn, making differentiated instruction essential to all classrooms. I believe this type of instruction sees each student as an individual and strives to meet every student’s learning needs. A differentiated classroom will use various assignments to go along with the varying abilities of the students. The instruction will recognize the multiple intelligences found within the classroom and will use a variety of resources to meet standards. The standards used by teachers will act as a guideline to meet the learning styles and abilities of the students. Finally, a differentiated classroom will constantly be using assessment throughout units and lessons to assess student learning and achievement.

Leading theorists such as Carol Ann Tomlinson, Jay McTighe and Marcia Imbeau help educators to understand the “why” of differentiated learning. It is the role of the teacher to determine what standards are most important for all students to achieve. To do this, a teacher must recognize that a classroom is made up of individuals with different backgrounds, experiences and skill levels. To help all students reach their potential, it should be the goal of the teacher to create activities and assignments that fit the needs of his or her students, but are also challenging and promote growth. Another positive impact of the differentiated classroom is allowing students to collaborate because it places more of the responsibility of their learning on them. The educator during this time should be more of a facilitator/observer and provide necessary assistance and modifications as needed.

There are many instructional methods that create a classroom conducive to differentiated learning apart from the traditional classroom setting. The use of multiple intelligences by Howard Gardner is powerful teaching tool for educators in the differentiated classroom. This teaching strategy allows teachers to adapt lessons to meet the needs and abilities of their students. It is important however, for teachers to use this strategy correctly. Trying to use all the intelligences in one lesson would be too much and not very effective in student achievement, but if a teacher is able to include a variety of linguistic, kinesthetic, visual and spatial strategies in lessons, the probability of student achievement will be greater.

I also believe the teacher's ability to make changes to the curriculum gives them great flexibility in meeting the learning abilities of each student. Teachers can meet students where they are. For example, if a student has achieved understanding of a concept, a teacher can provide a challenge for the student to extend their learning while others continue mastery. This can also include cooperative learning as students work together in communicating ideas and solving problems with their peers.

Differentiation allows teachers to work with the various backgrounds, learning abilities and learning styles in a more effective way. Apart from the traditional classroom, these strategies allow students to take control of their learning and reach higher-level thinking because the teacher is giving opportunities for students to discover, analyze and create rather than the traditional practice of giving direct instruction.

I believe the teaching of students in half groups at Rossman not only allows for a great student to teacher ratio, but also gives our teachers the flexibility to use differentiation to fit the needs of students based on objective, standard or skill desired.

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Rossman School, nestled on a 20-acre campus in Creve Coeur, is an independent preparatory school for students in Junior Kindergarten (four years old) through Grade 6. The school’s mission is to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence. Dedicated to developing personal, nurturing relationships with each child, Rossman’s experienced educators provide a solid foundation in academics, athletics and arts while emphasizing strong character development and leadership skills.​ Request a free Rossman School brochure here.

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