By: Dr. Gregory W. Betts
“In differentiated classrooms, teachers begin where students are, not the front of a curriculum guide. They accept and build upon the premise that learners differ in important ways. Thus, they also accept and act on the premise that teachers must be ready to engage students in instruction through different learning modalities, by appealing to differing interests, and by using varied rates of instruction along with varied degrees of complexity (Tomlinson, 1999).” Carol Ann Tomlinson’s quote in 1999 can be easily modified to fit personalizing learning for students today. Meeting the needs of all students and bringing them to proficiency and beyond are goals of most schools I am familiar with. There is a lot more to personalizing learning than just differentiating instruction though it is one of the major components of meeting the needs of all students. Differentiated instruction is defined as the use of a variety of teaching and learning strategies that are necessary to meet the range of needs evident in any classroom. This includes making adjustments to what you are teaching by either making it more challenging for higher students or making modifications for your lower students. This can involve varying instruction, materials or content to ensure all students are learning the required materials.
In order to ensure that all students receive equal opportunities to be successful within the school environment, teachers must analyze both student needs and the demands of their own classroom. Through this analysis, educators are then able to establish necessary accommodations for students with unique learning, emotional, and/or behavioral needs. The INCLUDE strategy from Including Students with Special Needs is designed to help students who need an individual approach in the classroom. The INCLUDE strategy has two key principles. The first principle is based on the idea that student performance is a result of the teaching style and methods interacting with the student’s abilities. The second principle is based on the idea that the teacher identifies all student needs, including those with and without disabilities. By identifying the needs, the teacher can then alter or adjust the lessons to positively affect all students involved in the classroom lessons. This strategy can be paired with the 4 steps of an effective PLC (Professional Learning Community) as a guide and support meeting the needs of all students and assisting in creating a personalized environment.
Step 1: Identify classroom demands
Step 2: Note student learning strengths and needs
Step 3: Check for potential areas of student success
Step 4: Look for potential problem areas
Step 5: Use information to brainstorm ways to differentiate instruction
Step 6: Differentiate instruction
Step 7: Evaluate student progress
|Identify classroom demands||Includes looking at the classroom environment and potential materials needed to effectively teach specific lessons and meet different needs. This ranges from organization and routines to ensuring effective class groupings, methods of teaching, as well as having all needed/appropriate materials.|
|Note student learning strengths and needs||Assess strengths of each student (academic, social-emotional development, or physical development).|
|Check for potential areas of student success||Analyze student success using the instructional demands of Step 1 by looking for strengths in academic and social-emotional areas. Find different activities that students will succeed in using student data.|
|Look for potential problem areas||Assess student challenges and review where students are going to be most likely to struggle and address these situations with different methods that could potentially be used to differentiate instruction: Seating arrangement, structure vs. unstructured activities, students academic work, and social interaction.|
|Use information to brainstorm ways to differentiate instruction||Information collected can be used to brainstorm how to support students. This can be done through accommodations and modifications and will be dependent upon where students struggle and where their mismatches occur in their learning. Identify ways to eliminate the effects of problem areas and how to support success.
|Differentiate instruction||Challenge advanced students and break instruction down for students that might struggle. Select different instructional/behavioral strategies to meet the needs of each student. Select age-appropriate strategies, select the easiest approach first, select accommodations and modifications that the instructor agrees with, give student choices strategies, and choose choices with demonstrated effectiveness., etc.|
|Evaluate student progress||This step allows the teacher to evaluate the methods that have been put into place in order to help the student. It is important to determine if the methods used were effective. Formatively and summatively assess students to ensure growth has been made. Assess effectiveness through grades, observations, observation, assessment scores, student ratings, etc.|
FRIEND, M. P., & BURSUCK, W. D. (2006). Including students with special needs: a practical guide for classroom teachers. Boston, Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.
DUFOUR, R., & EAKER, R. E. (1999). Professional learning communities at work: best practices for enhancing student achievement. [Bloomington, Ind.], National Educational Service.
Tomlinson, C. (1999). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.