Differentiated Instruction: Adapting the Learning Environment for Students

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  1. 1:00 Instruction
  2. 2:40 Content
  3. 3:57 Process
  4. 5:05 Product
  5. 5:56 Learning Environment
  6. 7:05 Lesson Sumamry
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Taught by

Erin Long-Crowell

Differentiated instruction is a great strategy that teachers use to accommodate a wide variety of learning needs. In this lesson, we discuss differentiated instruction and identify which aspects of the classroom can be differentiated.

Today's Diverse Class

Classrooms today are more diverse than they've ever been, from preschool all the way through college. You may be thinking of gender, race, culture, etc., but those aren't the only things that make the classroom diverse. Students also have diverse learning styles, abilities, preferences, and needs.

Imagine you're in a computer class and the instructor is trying to teach everyone the basics of using presentation software. Do you think you'd already know most of the material? Let's imagine you are a very advanced user and that you'd be bored during the lesson. Julie is sitting to your left, and she hasn't used a computer much, so she is completely lost and confused. Brad is sitting to your right and seems to be learning quite a bit from the instructor.

Definition of Differentiated Instruction

This scenario is an example of when a teacher would want to use differentiated instruction. Differentiated instruction is a teaching method in which teachers adapt their instruction to accommodate a variety of learning needs. It is more than simply helping students that need extra assistance after a lesson is presented. It is proactively developing a variety of teaching materials so that all students within a classroom can learn effectively regardless of differences in learning style or academic skill.

Rather than developing a lesson aimed at the 'average student,' teachers using differentiated instruction specifically tailor a lesson to incorporate a variety of learning needs. It's important to note that differentiated instruction does not mean that a separate lesson plan is developed for every single student. Instead, students are presented with several learning options or different paths to learning in order to help them take in and make sense of the information.

For example, think again about that computer class. If your instructor was using differentiated instruction, you would not have to wait for Julie and Bob to catch up to you. You and other advanced users in your class would have been provided with more advanced material so that you could enhance your skills. Likewise, Julie and other beginners would have been provided with less advanced material to help them gain a solid understanding of using the computer before moving on to the presentation software.

Setting up stations with different activities is an example of differentiating process
Differentiated Instruction Stations

Differentiating Content

There are four aspects of the classroom that teachers can focus on to differentiate instruction: content, process, product, and learning environment. Content refers to the information that is given to the students, or the material they are supposed to learn. Although the core content and facts remain the same, teachers can present the content in a variety of ways in order to reach the most students. For example, a teacher could use textbooks, demonstrations, and videos to teach the same information, each of which is likely to appeal to different students. The difficulty of the content could also be differentiated.

An example of differentiated content in your computer class would be the teacher using not only a presentation to give you information but also textbooks and maybe even a tutorial. Perhaps you learn the most from reading an advanced book, Julie learns the most from a beginner's tutorial, and Brad learns the most from the teacher's demonstration. Differentiating the content helps the teacher reach numerous students regardless of their present skills and learning styles.

Differentiating Process

The next aspect of the classroom that teachers can differentiate is process, which is when students work on the information the teacher has given to them. An example of process is when the students are doing homework or in-class activities. Teachers can assign multiple projects that are very different from each other in order to appeal to different skill levels and learning styles. For example, teachers can create stations within the classroom, and each station has a different activity. Students could either choose which station to work at or the teacher could require them to go to each one.

In your computer class, there would likely be three different versions of a particular assignment. Julie and other beginners would receive one, you and other advanced users would receive the second, and Brad and the rest of the students would receive the third. The teacher would want to ensure that all students were practicing challenging but appropriate exercises at their respective ability levels.

Differentiating Product

The third aspect of the classroom that teachers can differentiate is product, which is how the students demonstrate what and how much they've learned. In differentiated instruction, teachers would have a variety of products such as tests, group and individual work, presentations, etc. Products should provide students with different ways to demonstrate their knowledge since some students don't perform as well on certain tasks.

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