Most of the classes have children who show advanced learning ability, developmental level of their age and grade, and those who find it challenging to complete assignments. For this reason, a teacher’s task is to use these differences and find various approaches to improve the learning experience of children and increase their level of knowledge. One such approach is the use of differentiated instruction or teaching that helps all children in mixed-ability classrooms learn and have an interest in learning. Hence, this workshop will explore the concept of differentiated instruction and diversification strategies for mixed-ability classrooms to enhance teacher knowledge and teaching approaches.
What Is Differentiated Instruction?
Each student has a different understanding of the world and individual abilities that determine their learning needs. These needs affect the way, process, pace, and other parameters of learning, which directly influence the effectiveness of mastering knowledge and skills. Differentiated instruction is designed to meet these needs by adapting teaching style, content, processes, and forms of learning to the characteristics of students (Suprayogi et al., 2017). However, teachers need to understand the specific features of differentiated instructions to perceive the specifics of their application.
The first aspect to note is that differentiated instructions are designed to work with the class but not with individual students. Although this approach requires an understanding of students’ individual characteristics, such as the pace and quality of completing assignments, each child cannot receive the full personal attention of a teacher. Instead, a teacher adapts and prepares the assignments so that students can work in groups or independently in the classroom or at home in a convenient and effective way. Although this approach needs a long preparation time, it is much more affordable than individual assistance to each student (Aftab, 2015). Thus, the children learn the materials in a convenient way for them, and the teacher can note the difficulties or successes of some students to adapt the following tasks to their needs.
Elements of Differentiated Learning
How Do We Differentiate Content?
Differentiated learning and teaching are student-oriented, and since the learning process is divided into several stages, differentiation has several options. Teachers can differentiate content, process, product, and learning environment to meet student needs (Tomlinson, 2001; Handa, 2019). Content is one of the key elements as it defines children’s knowledge. Content differentiation is essential for several reasons, such as matching students’ skill or motivating their learning. Bransford et al. (2000) noted that motivation is a crucial element for learning or transferring information into skills, and it depends on many factors such as the complexity or the interest of tasks. Thus, these factors should be considered for choosing content for different students.
Teachers can use two approaches to differentiating content by influencing what students learn and how they receive information. For example, for students who find it difficult to interpret texts, a teacher can provide the same material written in a simpler language or a video form, and an advanced student can be offered additional study materials. However, in the second case, it is important to interest the student in the study of the material; hence, the teacher can suggest a humorous, game, or other kinds content corresponding to the student’s interests for a more in-depth study of the topic (Tomlinson, 2001). At the group level, content differentiation is also appropriate, for example, to share a complex research topic among students who will present their projects and discuss them in class. Thus, all students will be able to choose a subtopic of interest to them and, at the same time, fully explore the issue through other’s projects and discussions with peers.
How Do We Differentiate Process?
Differentiation of the process is also an essential element of student learning as they have different rates and approaches to understanding new information. Differentiation of processes also depends on students’ readiness, interests, and learning profile and manifests itself in various modifications (Tomlinson, 2001). In other words, process differentiation can manifest itself in what students do to learn and how they do it.
Differentiation of the process according to a student’s readiness can manifest itself in the complexity of the tasks that he or she needs to complete. For example, a teacher might ask an advanced student to study the influence of inert forces in the environment and show his or her findings as experiments in the classroom. Such an assignment also relates to differentiation according to interest, since for most children, conducting experiments is more interesting than reading textbooks. In this way, the student will be motivated to study a lesson topic that other children have been studying for a longer time. Differentiating processes according to a learning profile means an approach to learning materials. For example, all people have types of learning such as auditory, visual and kinetic and others on which the most effective way of perceiving and understanding information depends (Şener & Çokçalışkan, 2018). In addition, students may be better able to work in pairs or alone, in silence or with music. Thus, by offering several options for the learning process, for example, through discussion, reading, or watching a video, teachers can help them learn new skills and knowledge.
How Do We Differentiate and Evaluate Products?
The final part of the learning is the presentation of the product by the students, which they create based on the knowledge gained in the course. Product differentiation also relies on student readiness, interest, and learning profile (Tomlinson, 2001). This fact means that a teacher needs to provide options for students to create a product. For example, a teacher can offer students a project in the form of an essay, presentation, or video, in which they choose to reveal one of the questions presented in the novel studied in the course. Thus, students will be able to select a convenient format for them and an interesting topic, which stimulates their interest and allows them to use an effective way of creating a product.
At the same time, it is vital for the teacher to establish clear requirements for the quality of work, which will evaluate the content, the creation process, and the final product. In this case, the mandatory requirement is to use the terms and concepts learned on the course in the product, while other requirements may be variable depending on the student’s readiness (Tomlinson, 2001). In this way, the teacher will provide students with precise requirements and guidelines for completing the assignment, which includes the use of the acquired knowledge but allows the application of this knowledge in a convenient way for the students.
Therefore, this review demonstrates that differentiated instruction is an important tool and approach to ensure a sufficient level of knowledge for all students, depending on their needs and skills. Teachers can offer various learning methods and forms at the content, process, and product levels. At the same time, the main differences are aspects of students such as their readiness, interest, and learning profile. Recognizing and applying these features in the learning process helps teachers improve the learning experience and knowledge of the students in the classroom.
Aftab, J. (2015). Teachers’ beliefs about differentiated instructions in mixed ability classrooms: A case of time limitation. Journal of Education and Educational Development, 2(2), 94-114.
Bransford, J., Brown, A. & Cocking, R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school (Expanded Edition). National Academy Press.
Handa, M. C. (2019). Leading differentiated learning for the gifted. Roeper Review, 41(2), 102–118. Web.
Şener, S., & Çokçalışkan, A. (2018). An investigation between multiple intelligences and learning styles. Journal of Education and Training Studies, 6(2), 125. Web.
Suprayogi, M. N., Valcke, M., & Godwin, R. (2017). Teachers and their implementation of differentiated instruction in the classroom. Teaching and Teacher Education, 67, 291–301. Web.
Tomlinson, C. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed ability classrooms (2nd ed.). Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.