At The Cloverleaf School we strive to meet our kids where they are and teach them effectively so they can experience academic and social success. To do this, we must become masters of differentiated instruction. Every day we try to create lessons that connect to each student’s learning styles, interests, prior knowledge, sensory needs and abilities.
Here are some tips for how to meet the needs of ALL your students during each class.
1. Collaborative Projects
In my Science classes, I love to do collaborative projects because it allows each student to express his creativity, and it allows me to give each student a task at the appropriate level. For this project, we worked together to create a pond ecosystem. Some students were drawing animals and designing their animal’s habitat. Others were coloring animals, but engaged in a discussion about where that animal lives and what that animal would be doing at the pond. Another student was in charge of placing the organisms in the appropriate places in the ecosystem. Then together, as an assessment, we labeled the living and nonliving components of the ecosystem.
Another collaborative project we created during this unit was a Pond Food Web. Approaching this project, I took into account that drawing can be an overwhelming task for some of my students. I always give the option to color or cut out pictures instead. Some students were asked to make one connection on the web and some were asked to create entire food chains. I gave others the task of placing the animals correctly. Then, for a challenge, I asked a few students to complete the web by making all the connections and checking to ensure the “energy arrows” were flowing in the correct direction.
Collaborative projects allow me to challenge some students to apply knowledge while reinforcing basic concepts with others.
2. Group and Individual Tasks
I often start each class in a group setting to review or introduce concepts. Some students enjoy the group problem solving and are motivated by their peers. To get some movement in for the wiggly ones, I often have one student interacting with a visual model on the wall while all the other kids act out a movement that correlates with what the lead student is sorting (i.e. if the organism is a producer, jump up and spread your arms like a tree since producers are plants). This helps keep everyone involved when taking turns.
Next, we move to the table to do an individual activity such as picture sorting, filling out charts, vocabulary matching, or labeling an organism. At this time, I pull one or two kids to work with me on an isolated skill. By providing a group activity and an individual activity I’m able to assess each students’ knowledge as well as accommodate several learning styles.
3. Technology & Media
I have several students this year that respond more to media formats than my typical oral delivery of information. They remember content so much better when I present it using technology rather than my usual oral, visual, and kinesthetic methods. So now I’m incorporating technology into my daily lessons as much as possible. Here we are playing a fun producer, consumer, decomposer game. We also watched a short video clip on Brain Pop Jr. that described what a habitat is. I feel that if I can present and review content through a variety of forms, my students are more likely to remember and make connections because they have experienced the content in at least one meaningful way.
4. Verbal & Nonverbal Tasks
Also, many of our students have language challenges. They often know more than they are able to share orally or in writing. I find it’s helpful to have some activities that require an oral or written response as well as some activities that are nonverbal tasks. During one of my science classes, we’ll usually do one of each. For example, today we did a silent sorting activity to see which organism belongs in which Georgia region. Next, we did an oral and written activity that required each student to justify why an organism can survive in one habitat but not another. Then, to differentiate within each activity, I asked some student’s to sort more pictures into several subcategories while the others sorted by the main categories. During the written activities, I differentiate by dictating, giving graphic organizers and giving some student’s more parameters than others.
The goal of differentiated instruction is for everyone to be working on the same activity while working at their own level. Each student has their own path to the learning goal. By constantly catering our lessons to our student’s needs, we become more effective educators. Our students don’t have to adapt to us, since we adapt our lessons to fit them.