3 Powerful Strategies For Effective Differentiated Instruction

You don’t even need a big class to see diverse learners in a classroom, you could have a class of five students and each one could experience a different level of struggle when learning. With different students you need different teaching methods, there isn’t really ever a “one size fits all” solution for this! This is why we urge teachers to use differentiated instruction in the classroom to cater for learners diversity. Differentiated instruction can be done by balancing between direct instructions and cooperative learners, by providing students with structured and tiered assignments, and by having students jot down journals about their experiences or thoughts of the class!

1. Balance Direct Instruction and Cooperative Learning

Reference: Pavel Danilyuk, 2021

Recently, there has been a lot of controversies around the effectiveness of direct instruction. Teachers were told they needed to be “the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage”.

"Planning group activities takes time so I prefer direct instruction."

"But direct instruction sometimes lulls my students to their dreamlands."

With these being the common teacher sentiments, do you think the same?

However, research indicates that when direct instruction is done correctly, it can be an effective and worthwhile teaching approach than group work done incorrectly. Group work provides a chance for students to collaborate and share ideas, which can be difficult to achieve with direct instruction alone. Ultimately, it’s important to remember that different students prefer different learning styles, so a hybrid of direct instruction and cooperative learning is worthwhile to explore.

At this point, one thing to note is that - cooperative learning is not the same as group work. Sometimes, you may notice students are working individually during group work then put the jigsaw pieces together at the very last moment. However, cooperative learning emphasises on giving equal opportunities for students to engage and learn from each other - they should be working on each puzzle piece together instead of separately.

Now, try the following to teaching strategies in your classroom:

  1. Some students have a short attention span - Try to cut your lecture into short segments by building in short breaks every 10-15 minutes. These breaks help students to process the knowledge just being taught.

  2. Make well use of the breaks - Incorporate cooperative learning activities to check for students' understanding and encourage peer learning. Useful strategies include "Think-Pair-Share", in which no one will be left out with the small grouping of 2; "Gallery walk", in which all students can be easily engaged as they walk through the classroom to finish small tasks; and "Rally Coach", which students can give and receive feedback from their classmate.

2. Structure Tiered Assignments

Reference: Pavel Danilyuk, 2021

As students learn at different rates and have different abilities, to meet the needs of each student, it is necessary to vary the level of difficulty of assignments. One simple approach is by handing out 'tiered assignments’. There are a few ways to structure tiered assignments, but generally, teachers cluster students into 2-3 groups according to their ability or level of readiness for a topic and assign each group a different task.

Based on the type of tasks you're planning to assign, you will need to choose a different way to tier your assignments:

  1. Challenge level - Different groups of students will tackle a different levels of assignments on the same topic.

  2. Process - Different groups of students will use different processes to achieve a similar outcome for the same/ similar task.

  3. Product - Different groups of students will be asked to finish entirely different tasks but within the same topic.

  4. Resources - Provide different groups of students with different resources to finish the same/ similar task.

3. Ask For Journals From Students

Reference: Monstera, 2021

After attending lectures and class activities, or after finishing assignments or projects, students should reflect on what they've learnt and organise the information in a journal. This can effectively become a great tool for students to look back on their learning journey during revision time, and more importantly, for you to differentiate your students.

You should ask your students to hand in their learning journals from time to time by having them:

  • Summarise key points they’ve learnt

  • Give answers to some questions you assigned

  • Suggest any activities/ changes that they want in class

  • Basically anything you would like to know from them :)

As they continue to make entries, they'll soon figure out the best way which allows them to effectively process fresh content, and you'll be able to learn more about your students and fine-tune your teaching - killing two birds with one stone.

Afterall, the above 3 are just a few tips out of a myriad of ways to get rid of 'one-size-fits-all' and move onto the differentiated instruction era. We’re sure you don’t want to leave some of your precious students out on the fringe of your teaching. At Fan{task}tic, we're leveraging technology to offer you new methods to cater for learner diversity. If you're interested, try out our solutions!