Teachers are always told to differentiate, differentiate and differentiate. We all understand how important and impactful it is to the classroom but sometimes it’s hard to think of ways to actually do it, especially with all of the other things that are running through our minds constantly. We need to help each other out and offer ideas of practices that have gone successfully from our own experience and maybe that little idea can spark something in someone else. So, fellow teachers, I am here to offer some of the techniques and ideas I’ve tried and hopefully this will give you some form of inspiration!
1. Differentiated Content
Differentiated content refers to the actual information students are learning and the skills that being taught. This can be done in multiple ways. For example, offer students different levels of difficulty of a reading or have vocabulary lists tailored to student levels and need. Something I have done in my classroom is record myself reading difficult texts and made it available to students if they need it.
Another strategy I used was teaching history as if it were a story…literally. I would retell historical events as if I were reading them a book. Alongside my reading, I had made illustrations depicting what I was reading, making it (hopefully) easier for them to follow. Yes, this was time consuming and I would not recommend doing it every lesson as you would drive yourself mad. But, it’s definitely fun to do every now and then. Other ways you can try this is teaching the content in graphic organizers, completing readings with a partner or independently. Conducting group discussions or allowing students to do their own research.
2. Differentiated Process
Differentiated process is changing up how students are learning. This is where you can change up the learning activities and have fun while doing it. In one of my World War II units, I was teaching the content by analyzing primary sources with the students. We would learn about historical events through the media that was available to the public at the time, as if we were living during the war. All of us did this by looking at maps, newspaper articles, propaganda videos/posters, radio broadcasts and written announcements. We even tried making a muffin recipe that was published during the war to explore what the home front was like. I find that differentiating the process is a really useful way to get students engaged with the material! More things you can try include jigsaw activities, role playing, scavenger hunts or interactive review activities such as use Kahoot or Quizlet.
3. Differentiated Product
Differentiating the product allows students new ways to show their learning. This method gives those students who are not the test takers a chance to shine. I love thinking of fun and engaging assignments and tasks for students to show and apply what they’ve learned. A really easy way to do this is provide choice for students.
In one of my units, for their final tasks I gave them a question and they could answer it in any way they choose. Some students wrote a narrative, some made a comic strip, some made a timeline, others made a graphic organizer. I believe that students appreciate the chance to be creative and choose their own way to show their learning. Some other ideas you can use are offering choice of questions in tests, quizzes or essays, showing their understanding of historical people through role playing. Have students create a meme, have students create tutorial videos on science or math topics or have students create alternate endings to English Literature.
4. Differentiated Learning Environment
Finally, changing up the learning environment can be equally as useful to students as it can be for teachers. I was working with students who had very little motivation to be in school. I tried to motivate them by changing things up in the classroom as often as I could. One way I did this was through an escape game review activity. Students were reviewing content from the unit by participating in an escape game. They had to go around the room, follow clues and hints. They were reading maps and diagrams, solving puzzles and cracking codes.
One of the games asked students to follow a map around the school and go to different classes. Students were working together to solve the puzzles and 'escape the room' while having fun and reviewing the course content. This was a successful activity that they really enjoyed and acted as a way for me to expand the walls of the classroom and create different learning environment. Or you can try taking learning outside, incorporating field trips, hands-on learning or changing up the class layout.
The thing with differentiation is it’s not one size fits all. That’s why it’s important for us to keep trying new or a combination of different things. Sometimes it won’t work, sometimes it will. Sometimes we will have an absolute failure and learn either to never do it again or learn how to make it better for next time. And that’s ok! As long as you’re willing to try and explore and have fun with it, you’re tackling differentiation like the rest of us!