Differentiated instruction is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot, but what does it really mean?
At its core, it means meeting student needs by giving them different ways to access, learn, and demonstrate their knowledge. Sounds pretty straight forward, right?
Turns out, differentiated instruction can be a little challenging to put into practice, mostly because teachers always have a wide range of learners all within one classroom. The hardest part of it all is that we are expected to teach to all student needs with little to no support.
Differentiated instruction doesn’t have to be impossible though! Here are 7 strategies I’ve discovered works quite well in creating a learning environment that supports all students.
Reading Pairs or Reading Groups
This one is perfect for our little social learners. Adults enjoy learning and working alongside friends and colleagues, and children do too!
Building in reading pairs or reading groups provides students with the opportunity to scratch their social itch while enjoying their books at the same time. Win-win!
Allow Students to Work Independently
If we’re going to build in the structure for reading pairs and groups for our social learners, we absolutely must include a system that will allow students to work independently.
Not everyone is a social learner, kids included. The ones who need their own space to think and process, the ones who need quiet to focus - our more introverted learners. They will appreciate having the choice to work independently!
Work Around the Room
Have you ever needed a change in your work environment in order to refocus? Students do too! This is why I’ve always set up different workspaces around my classroom so that students don’t have to always be stuck at their desks.
Upper elementary kids love to sprawl on the floor, sit on beanbags, stand at the counter, or lounge around by the window. As long as their workspace keeps them focused and productive, I say let the magic happen!
Work Under their Desks
I know, I know. Imagine a parent walking into your classroom and seeing their child curled up under their desk. Who’s this crazy lady on the internet telling you it’s okay??
But truly, it IS okay. They’re safe, they’re supervised, they’re getting their work done, so why not?
Letting students work under their desks helps them get their sillies out, and it gives them the feeling that they’re working in a fort! And what kid doesn’t like a fort? Trust me, for the right kid, this one works like a charm.
Quiet spaces around the room
Sometimes being given the opportunity to work independently isn’t quite enough for our introverts. Some students really need help blocking out noise.
You can do this by creating quiet spaces around the room, like in corners away from student desks. Bookshelves are a great physical barrier that can absorb a bit of the noise. Use them to create little nooks for kids to curl up in, away from prying eyes and loud voices. A safe haven within a safe classroom!
And if THAT’S not far enough from the noise…
Work in the Hallway
For the kids who need even MORE space away from the high energy classroom, working in the hallway is a great choice. This also works well for students who could use some more room to stretch their legs.
Remember though that you know your students best. Permit this when kids are able to use their time wisely, and always check in on them regularly to make sure they have everything they need to complete their tasks. Not only does that communicate the feeling of “I got you!” but it also serves as a reminder that you’re still around and supervising them :)
Quiet music playing in the background
Final tip - and you’ll love this one! Playing quiet music in the room somehow magically works to set the expectation that student volume should always be quieter than the music. It’s hilariously effective!
Quiet music also creates a wonderfully soothing ambiance, and pushes all the right productivity buttons for our young learners. It stimulates the creativity in our brains, and even relaxes anxious nerves.
So turn on that Lo-Fi hip hop, and enjoy!
Integrating Learning Styles
To dive even deeper into identifying student learning styles, check out my workshop on Integrating Learning Styles into your classroom! Lots of ideas for differentiated assignments, as well as student surveys and other learning styles activities.
You’ll receive a 1-hour PD certificate for your hard work at the end of the workshop.