Everyone is unique. From the fingerprints on our fingers to the way we learn, our uniqueness is what makes us different from everyone else.
For teachers, learning to complement the unique learning styles of their students can sometimes be a bit of a challenge.
Fortunately, using differentiated learning strategies greatly improves a teacher's ability to cater to students' individual needs.
It's extremely hard to teach a certain topic to an entire class when the students aren't on the same level of knowledge. Teachers who deploy differentiated learning strategies attempt to reach everyone in the class at the same time. At the same time, they still understand that everyone is on a different level.
Chances are you've heard of this teaching method but maybe you've never put it to use. On the other hand, perhaps you're currently using differentiated learning strategies but not enjoying as much success with them as you thought. Whatever your case may be, we've put together a helpful go-to guide for you to lean on.
5 Must-Use Differentiated Learning Strategies
- Use formative assessments to pinpoint student learning styles.
- Design your lesson plans based on your student's learning styles.
- Separate students into different groups based on their learning styles.
- Create a classroom that supports the use of differentiated learning.
- Continue to perform formative assessments and tweak groups to meet the current learning style needs of your students.
Create a Classroom That Supports Differentiated Learning
Set up the classroom so that students can be placed in groups. Student desks can easily be rotated in their positions to form a whole-class learning environment. Afterwards, they can be transitioned back into their normal positions to create a differentiated learning environment that supports group learning. Your formative assessments will dictate which students should be placed in each group.
You can also rotate stations back and forth for completing different assignments. For example, in one learning station, you can have students create a piece of artwork. In the other three, they can complete a puzzle, listen to a webinar lecture, and read an article.
Provide multilevel resources to the different groups and offer assignments on a tiered basis. For example, advanced learning resources will be provided to those who display advanced learning styles. Harder assignments are given to students who do exceptionally well in problem-solving and research. These students will be able to use learning tools to teach themselves and complete their coursework. This means the bulk of your attention will likely be provided to struggling students.
Create Multilevel Assignments
Your multilevel assignments and activities should come in a three-tier form—beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Each level of activity should strive to challenge the groups of students according to their learning styles. Do not give an assignment that you believe the students will be able to complete without any form of problem-solving or research. However, keep in mind the required research and problem-solving will need to vary in difficulty based on the learning styles of each group.
For example, assigning learners to read a book and then provide a summary can be created as a multi-level assignment by:
- Having beginner students provide a visual summary
- Assigning intermediate students an oral presentation
- Getting advanced students to write a two-page essay
From time to time, you may also wish to provide open-ended activities and assignments geared toward the classroom as a whole. This is a great way to bring all students together to ensure collaboration is happening.
Appropriately Distribute Tools and Resources
Over the past decade, countless advancements in technology have made their way into the classroom. Schools offer students access to tablets and mobile devices which can be used to fuel learning success. However, not all of your students are going to be proficient with these tools. How do we use differentiated learning strategies to get around thins?
At the beginning of the year, spend two to three weeks getting to know the various learning styles of your students. During that time there should be a focus on determining which students can work well with mobile technology and computers. It's a good idea to document which devices can be used in an advanced manner by which students, too.
Once you've done this, you can then spend the rest of the year carrying out various differentiated learning assignments that ensure all students are able to effectively use technological tools before the school year is over.
Know That Deadlines Are Going to Be Different
Differentiated learning strategies include managing different deadlines for school projects. Telling one student they have two weeks longer to finish a particular assignment than another student probably won't go over well. That's why you must use a strategic approach to setting deadlines.
Assigning tasks that are similar in nature but not the exact same is a common differentiated learning strategy. Your beginner-level groups will, of course, require more time to finish their assignments than the intermediate and advanced level groups. Ideally, all groups of learners will receive the same deadlines on their assignments. However, the tasks will vary in their level of difficulty so everyone is pushed to meet their full learning potentials.
Appeal to All Senses
Study students to determine which ones respond best to assignments that appeal to different senses. For example, you may discover some students learn exceptionally well when listening to podcasts or audiobooks while others learn best when completing written assignments.
Assign Outcome-Based Assignments
When you give the entire class an outcome-based assignment, this means that there is no right or wrong answer to the assignment. Differentiated learning strategies like this are beneficial in helping students understand how different minds have different perspectives.
All students should be given a strict set of guidelines that they must follow. As long as they do, then the outcomes that they come up with will be considered acceptable. Beginner and intermediate level groups will likely produce outcomes that are near as advanced as the advanced group of learners.
Engage in Dialogue and Support
Successfully utilizing differentiated learning strategies in the classroom requires spending time learning which students can understand more advanced levels of dialogue. More importantly, you must be able to switch back and forth easily between advanced and simple level dialogue to complement the learning styles of each student. You may find yourself talking in a very sophisticated manner for five minutes to an advanced-level group of students and then have to switch back to talking in plain language while you explain the same topic to a group of students who are labeled as beginner learners.
If you can keep from referring to your students as beginners, intermediate, and advanced, it will promote a sense of unity throughout the classroom. Depending on the age of the students, they may be able to tell they are being divided according to their learning styles. Conducting whole-class assignments, lectures, and activities is an excellent way to ensure unity and collaboration are maintained throughout the school year.