11 PRACTICAL WAYS TO GUIDE TEACHERS TOWARD DIFFERENTIATION (and an Evaluation Tool)

Article excerpt

Differentiated instruction adapts learning to the students' unique differences. The strategies and activities are student-centered, based on readiness, planned with flexible grouping designs, and changed as needed to meet the needs of all learners. These personalized experiences give students access to all of the information and skills they can assimilate in their learning journeys.

Differentiated instruction focuses on the diverse needs of the individual learners. The first step in developing a differentiated instructional program is to provide an introduction to the philosophy and an overview of the benefits for learners. After the introductory phase, teachers need to identify existing practices that effectively differentiate instruction.

Next, teachers can engage in reflection and discussion. The following statements and suggestions may help guide improvement sessions:

* What areas need to be improved?

* How can we strengthen our strongest areas for continuous growth?

* How can we strengthen our weakest areas?

* Which components need to be deleted?

* What areas require more professional development and training?

* What do individual teachers need to become more responsive to the unique needs of learners?

Staff developers, curriculum specialists, administrators, and teachers must build a repertoire of common terminology. A few phrases and terms related to differentiated instruction can serve as discussion points. As specific needs and goals are identified, the list can be adapted for growth and planning.

1. KNOW THE STANDARDS.

* Rationale

Standards provide the base for teachers to use in planning customized learning opportunities. Teachers strategically select the standard for each lesson. They interweave the strategies and activities to teach it.

Teachers often begin with standards that can be easily tied to strategies and activities that match their own intelligences, learning styles, and modalities. For example, a teacher with an affinity for music is apt to select standards that can be taught through musical experiences.

* Professional deveiopment opportunity

Ask teachers to bring a list of the standards they use to a professional development session. Provide each participant with green, yellow, and red markers. Use directions similar to the following for teachers to analyze their knowledge and effectiveness with each standard:

1. Place a green dot by the standards you teach effectively.

2. Place a yellow dot by the standards that need more emphasis.

3. Place a red dot by the standards not addressed.

A majority of the marks will be green. The yellow and red marks identify the standards that need more emphasis. Encourage teachers to keep the list in their planning book or in a visible place so they can change the yellow and red dots to green as they become more confident and effective in teaching these standards.

Give teachers time to write each yellow and red standard on a sticky note. This makes it convenient for them to select a standard that needs more emphasis in their lessons.

2. VARY INSTRUCTIONAL STRATEGIES AND ACTIVITIES.

* Rationale

A variety of novel, stimulating strategies and activities will intrigue and challenge minds. Learning experiences must be planned to entice students with exciting, meaningful content. The learner must be guided to create relevant, personal connections to each lesson. When uniqueness and novelty are evident, students are more likely to focus on the lesson. More students grasp information and adapt it when their learning styles, modalities, intelligences, and interests are engaged.

* Professional development opportunity

Ask grade-level or subject-area teams to choose an upcoming unit that needs more variety in instructional strategies to meet diverse learner needs. When the group meets, have members brainstorm to identify a variety of instructional strategies and activities to teach a standard. …