Differentiation begins when you create your lesson plan and continues during the implementation of that lesson in the classroom. Knowing the unique capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses of all of your students are the key to implementing differentiation strategies in a way that maximizes classroom learning.
It is vital to recognize that not only do all students learn differently, but they also learn at a different pace. Consider the following planning:
- Use multiple learning strategies and techniques
- Alter the classroom environment and learning activities to meet students where they are.
- Develop activities accessible to all students with all types of gifts and challenges.
Differentiating instruction is a way of thinking, as opposed to a pre-planned list of tools and strategies. It is apart of the culture of the classroom. Sometimes it requires that we find ways to differentiate at the moment recognizing that, in the words of Rick Wormeli, "Fair isn't always equal." Build a classroom culture where students understand they are learning the material differently to meet the learning objective.
All students bring different gifts and challenges. Learn how to respond to them with a strategy to reach them where they are. Carol Thomlinson speaks about differentiating in three of the following areas:
- Content - The teacher designs learning activities with student choice to encourage student interests and skills. By using student choice, one might allow students to choose a topic to complete an assignment to use the power of engagement to activate student learning.
- Process - Teachers can change how students are grouped by utilizing mixed ability groups and the same ability groups. Each grouping strategy works better with a specific type of material. Each grouping strategy depends on the strengths of the students and which will maximize student learning.
- Product - Teachers can use student's interest to maximize student learning. By incorporating topics that students find interesting in your lessons, students have the freedom of creativity to demonstrate new knowledge while meeting the individual needs of the students.
Keep your focus on the learning objective regardless of the content area. While planning your activities, ask yourself, "What are the learning objectives my students need to meet?" and "What are the best ways to reach the objective that cater to each student's different learning styles and interests?". Knowing your student's strengths, challenges, and interests will guide your lesson planning and push your student learning to the next level!