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Differentiated Learning in the Classroom

How the Brain Learns

There is a push in our society to keep our children from failure, protect their self-esteem. At times teachers will lower their standards so that students will feel successful. Frederick Douglass once said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” There is so much value in the struggle, when we take that away from our student’s we do them a great disservice for life. The role of educators at Crossroads Christian School is to set high standards in our classrooms for all students and then create a challenging yet nurturing atmosphere helping them to learn how to reach those standards.

Classrooms are full of students with different learning styles. Teachers often run out of time trying to adapt every lesson to accommodate each learning style. It takes a tremendous amount of time to plan and incorporate differentiated instruction into everyday lessons. Teachers can attempt to adjust three main areas; content, process, and products to create lessons that are engaging with every student in a diverse classroom. This is referred to as differentiated instruction.

Differentiation is a teacher’s response to the learner’s needs. It is guided by mindset and the general principles of using respectful tasks, teaching up, continual assessment, and building community. Teachers can differentiate through content, process, and product according to the students’ readiness, interest, and learning styles.

Respectful tasks are responsive to the student’s needs, it is important that any task we ask students to attempt is challenging, interesting, and worth doing. Students seek affirmation and purpose every time they walk into their classroom. In a classroom that is using differentiated instruction students will complete different tasks at the same time. These tasks are adjusted according to the different levels of the students. No matter the level of the student the task should be challenging, engaging, and thought provoking. When this happens, all students will be learning in an effective way.

Teaching up is when the teacher raises the ceiling for all students. In classrooms that are using differentiated instruction every student should be working at a level that is just higher than their comfort level. This provides every student with a reasonable amount of challenge and can feel that sense of accomplishment when their hard work results in success. The most efficient way to teach up is to plan the most challenging activity first for the most advanced learner in the classroom, then modify that activity for the students who are at lower levels. This method, combined with high quality curriculum, plans with the end goal in mind. The teacher must have clear objectives for learning, for all levels and answer the question what I want my students to know, understand, and be able to do with this learning experience.

Assessment is the physical embodiment of a student’s mental understanding of a concept. Assessment is the driving force behind instruction in the differentiated classroom. Pre-Assessments are used to gauge the student’s readiness, and where each student is in relation to the content. With this information a teacher can identify groupings and assignments before the lessons are delivered. Continually assessing throughout the unit helps the teacher to keep up with the students’ progress and plan the next instructional step. The teacher can quickly see when there is a need to reteach when daily assessments are done. It is important that assessments are varied to allow all students to demonstrate their level of understanding.

Students come to school wanting to feel safe, accepted, and supported. Our teachers at CCS focus on building a classroom community where this is normal behavior. The classroom community is one that all students treat each other with respect, help each other overcome challenges, and are happy when their classmates are successful. In a classroom where the teacher is using differentiation, the students should understand what differentiation is about and feel as though they each play a role in their classroom community. The students not only feel that they are important, and they have a voice but also the responsibility of keeping the community a safe place. Teachers these three areas to differentiate instruction in a classroom that has many learning styles: content, process, and products.

Some content is just boring, there is no way around it. A wise educator will look for ways to impart information in a new way. Media is one of the most effective ways. Finding videos, songs, or other ways to help engage in the sharing of information can be very beneficial.

Process is the exercises and practices that student’s perform to better understand a concept. Simply assigning homework is not always the most effective way to help them to gain knowledge. Use a variety of strategies to help students to practice the lesson material that has been taught. Think-Pair-Share is an example, the students think about a question individually. Next, pair them together to discuss their thoughts. Finally, have each pair share their ideas with the whole class.

The result of any lesson or unit is the product the student produces to demonstrate their knowledge. In the differentiated classroom the assessments should be varied. Teachers may use projects, posters, reports, or any other type of assessment instead of the usual test or quiz to see if the students have gained the knowledge or skill from the lesson.


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