As an aspiring teacher and student in college, one keyword that I heard a lot was “differentiate”. Back then this meant little to me because reading about different learning abilities in a textbook wasn’t a real word example. All I understood from it was that it could be scary to learn how to easily differentiate in the classroom.
When I began actual observations and student teaching, I saw how differently kids learn. This is even more prevalent when you actually become a teacher! You will always have different learning abilities in your classroom, that much is true. This can be overwhelming teaching twenty-plus kids who learn at different places and respond to different things. It will soon be second nature to differentiate in the classroom with these tips.
Tips to Easily Differentiate in the Classroom
One easy way to differentiate is to create centers that utilize different learning styles. Have some with key visuals, some with writing, and some with auditory. It does not have to be time-consuming to create these and will ultimately benefit the kids. Many concepts are able to be tailored to a variety of grade levels. Centers are a fun hands-on way for students to gain more practice learning a concept.
Have Copies On Hand
Have copies of printables/worksheets on hand for different ability groups. For example, once you determine which students may require easier work and those who need more of a challenge, you can differentiate easily by finding similar concepts the class is learning in a grade level above or below. I would often give all students the opportunity to do what the class as a whole was working on, but sometimes a student may struggle with a certain concept. This way you are not scrambling last minute to find something for them to do.
More often than not, parents are a vital part in determining where their child is skill-wise. Make sure you are communicating with parents or guardians to discuss where the child is at and whether or not they would like different work for their child. You would be surprised how many parents are aware if their child struggles or excels in certain concepts. They may the ones to first initiate a discussion by asking for extra homework or seeing if their child can get work at a lower grade level.
The Power of Pairs and Groups
Have students work in pairs or groups. Sometimes I let them choose whomever to work with but, most of the time I will group them with someone they normally do not hang out with. Kids need to be able to feel comfortable working with anyone. Students love to help others and feel like they are the teacher. This helps gifted kids by having them help struggling students, and the struggling students may learn more from a fellow student rather than the teacher!
Different Challenges for Gifted Students
For the gifted students you can send home packets of extra work (I had kids who would actually asks for extra homework). Also, create spelling tests that are more challenging. The same goes for struggling learners. If you require a certain amount of homework each week, you can minimize their portion or focus on increasing the amount, but just for certain subjects. For example, if they are struggling in adding two digits, but excel at reading, consider minimizing the reading homework and increasing more practice for two-digit addition. You can also provide extra challenges for quick finishers or gifted students. For example, create a long-term project or novel study they can do each time they finish their work early.
Use visuals, visuals, and more visuals. It helps kids or even the average student stay focused and able to easily learn a concept. More and more schools are going the digital route, but this is not always feasible in every classroom, but that doesn’t mean you need an iPad, Smartboard or laptop to have visuals. Anchor charts are an awesome way for students to stay focused and you can even have them be a part of creating them! If you aren’t confident in your anchor chart-making skills check out Pinterest for ideas for teaching in the Tongass has some adorable premade anchor charts!
Use manipulatives in math. Hands-on lessons keep kids engaged and they also act as visual aides for this. Manipulatives do not have to be expensive at all. Practically anything can be turned into a manipulative. A piece of string or a paper clip can be used as a measuring tool, coins can be used to teach money, just use your creativity.
Use Your Coworkers for Help
Work with different teachers to see how to reach struggling readers. If your school does not have reading or math specialists, it can help to talk to other teachers and get more ideas. For example, when I taught third grade I had some students who still struggled with basic words and I was stumped with how to differentiate, However, other teachers in lower grades had great tips.
Relate new concepts to something previously learned. It sparks their minds and reminds them of what they have previously been taught. Recalling information does not come easily to everyone, but relating old concepts to new concepts, can help in retaining information.
Adjust Work Load
Some children just need to have work minimized. One example is that I have had students who get frustrated if they have to write a lot so I would usually require them to write less and grade accordingly. This doesn’t mean you should eliminate the work altogether by any means, just look at what aspects you can minimize! To differentiate means to adapt in a sense. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming.