Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated groups are identified by
signs hung from the ceiling.

Teacher post coming your way! One aspect of education that I have gained so much perspective on during my time here in England has been differentiated instruction. In layman’s terms, this basically means creating lessons and assessments that meet each student where he or she is in a way that appeals to his or her learning style and personal interests. You can probably see how difficult this can be in a class of twenty students! Planning for diverse learners is always a welcome challenge for me, and prior to my trip, I really hoped to gain insight into some methods and strategies I can apply to my own class.

To put it simply, the Brits really know how to accommodate every child in a way that doesn’t “dumb down” content. There are a few major strategies I have seen used to differentiate instruction here. The first is that student grouping isn’t static across the subject areas. Students work at cooperative tables of four to six students for morning work, maths, and literacy. The groups change for each time and are posted on a sign that hangs above each table. These student groupings for morning work are heterogenous, or including students of diverse learning styles and needs. This is helpful as morning work is a busy time in which student talk and collaboration is welcomed. Student groupings for maths and literacy are homogenous, or including students with similar ability levels. This allows a teacher, teaching assistant, or learning specialist to work with groups of students that need extra support. It also pushes students with higher background knowledge to think more critically and abstractly in an independent way.

In addition to allowing students requiring extra support to work with an adult, having these differentiated groups makes it easy to give each table a learning task that is suited to their needs. For example, some students may work to draw pictures and label each to retell a familiar story. Other students may work to retell a familiar story using vivid details in a narrative format. Still others may work to write a new ending to the same familiar story. Having each table of students working on the same task allows students to consult with each other and not be over- or underwhelmed by what those around them are doing, which could happen in heterogenous groupings.

Another interesting way I have observed differentiated instruction is what I call “must, could, should”. When the teacher explains a task that the students are to complete, they tell the students the criteria off success by explicitly stating what every student must include in their work, what they should include, and what they could include if they are able to. This gives the students a clear baseline for success and also pushes ALL students to think more critically, not just “higher-level learners.” This is a strategy I plan go integrate into my lessons as soon as I begin teaching again. I love this idea because it is also developmentally appropriate for the students. The expectations are clearly and concisely laid out in a way that is easier to understand than a complicated rubric, which some students may focus more on than the actual task.

Students create repeating patterns using
plastic forks dipped in different paint colors.

Finally, instruction here is extremely hands-on and exploratory: the students are constantly interacting with materials of an infinite amount of materials, from paint to bottles, computers, toys, live animals, and their own bodies. This is wagging for all learners, but it is especially effective for learners who are nog able to think abstractly just yet. It’s developmentally appropriate for this age as well (ages 5, 6, and 7), as children at this age needs hands-on manipulatives to allow them to form schemas–this is in keeping with Piaget’s theory of stages of development, specifically the concrete operational stage. 

I could write an entire blog devoted to the strategies for differentiated instruction I’ve seen in my placement here, but these are the ideas and strategies that have impact me the most as a young educator. I can’t wait to start teaching again so I can put these methods to use!


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