4 Tips: Differentiated Instruction in a Regular Classroom

This topic makes me recall what our professor in college told us before we were released for practice teaching or in-service training, ” The more diverse your teaching strategies are, the more certain that you are hitting diverse learners!”

With this, I say, “My students are like pens. Their different colors make them unique. But, they serve the same purpose!  Definitely, my classroom is one huge jar full of sharpened pencils.”

colored pencils

Photo by Agence Olloweb on Unsplash

Then, when I became a full-fledged teacher, I realized my professor was actually fostering differentiated instruction in a regular classroom! And, I was curious where to begin since I was then handling 50 students in one class!


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What is differentiating instruction really all about?

I would like to consider the situation shared with me by a new teacher I knew. “Why are my students not learning the same skill at the same time? It frustrates me. I still have a lot of competencies to cover. Some of my students just didn’t get it no matter how I covered the board with examples! I just didn’t hit it bull’s eye!”

I’ve never seen anyone as worried and as anxious as her. But, it didn’t make my blood run cold. I got her point and I understood her well!

Such was the situation!  Well, I pretty understand her situation because she is new to the teaching profession and she still needs to uncover a lot about the diversity of learners, learning styles, diverse teaching strategies, and most importantly, differentiated instruction in a regular classroom!

So, I simply asked the teacher, “Do you know who among your students are good at numbers? What about the number of learners who are good readers? Who among them loves art and has displayed creativity? Do you know their specific interests?

Do you think I was able to help her by asking those questions? Why is it important to know what areas in which our students are good?  Why is it important to check the learning profiles of our students?

My answer? So, our labor will not be in vain!

Even though you will arm yourself with the most colorful visuals but you are not aware that your students have different interests and learning styles, still it won’t help promote desirable learning outcomes.

We need to respond to students with varied needs and interests. Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy.  Gone are the days for this kind of mentality.

Also, we should not expect our students to learn the same skill at the same time or take the same assessment.

Hence, meeting our students with different learning needs and learning styles is highly indispensable in teaching and learning.

What is differentiated instruction?

Differentiated instruction is a teaching approach where a teacher employs varied instructional strategies and activities that will meet each student’s learning needs. It is an approach by which teachers recognize the diversity of learners.

According to Carol Ann Tomlinson, an American educator, author, and speaker, “differentiated instruction is a framework of meeting students’ individual needs in education”.

It is a way of thinking about teaching and learning. Therefore, differentiated instruction is not about a multitude of teaching strategies.

Furthermore, she made it clear that what our students learn, their ways of learning, and how they exhibit what they learned should be per their learning readiness, interests, and manner of learning.

Through differentiation, teachers aim to provide tasks and learning activities according to students’ needs and interests. It means that the teacher has to understand the students’ similarities and differences.

Specifically, when we meet students’ different learning needs, we can be certain that productive learning takes place.

Meeting a student’s individual needs is somewhat challenging but it pays the best interest. It will require us to be more sensitive to our students’ learning styles so we can tailor fit our instruction and make needed adjustments.

If we teachers differentiate instruction by making modifications in our teaching processes, learning content, ongoing assessment strategies, and learning environment, we are genuinely helping our students to be successful in their education.

Why is there a need to differentiate instruction?

When I was a new teacher, I stumbled upon the same problem. I thought my carefully planned daily lesson plan always hit the targeted objectives. However, I suddenly noticed the pitfalls during the assessment stage.

Only a few got passing scores or performed accordingly. Hence, I asked my co-teacher for help. She advised me to identify first the learning styles of my students because they have a variety of ways of learning. Then, she told me to prepare the learning profiles of my learners. And so, it was what I did.

Through the reflection of what went wrong, I realized that my students have various learning abilities and that I should cater to those differences to make sure that they are engaged and are motivated to learn.

As illustrated by my experiences, teaching students with various learning styles requires creativity and teaching skills so we will know how they learn best.

To be effective in educating diverse learners is one of the big challenges teachers need to handle. We need to tap our multitude of teaching strategies to ensure that our learners are meeting the expected learning outcomes.

As we desire educational excellence for our students, we have to acknowledge their diverse needs. With diverse backgrounds, we should not expect that our heterogeneous students in the classroom learn at the same level at the same time!

Adapting our teaching strategies to accommodate the learning styles of our students can be overwhelming.  However, if we are teaching with utmost sincerity, we will get through this easily.

In teaching, we have to accept that our students have varied interests and skills. They are like pencils in different colors. They have their means of excelling and dealing with their struggles.

Knowing the different learning abilities of our students will help us to set high expectations for our students. It is important to show confidence that they are capable of making their modest achievements.

Teaching is not only intellectual but also conceptual and creative. With this in mind, I am doing my best to make my students learn effectively through developing teaching materials and making adjustments in all aspects of learning so all my students in the classroom can learn effectively.

Hence, through my experience, I clearly understand that my students vary in readiness and performance. Moreover, they don’t display the same level of interest in the same material at the same time.

Watch the video below and learn extra thoughts on how to achieve effective differentiation in your classroom.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HjRMzlGMo8[/embedyt]

How to Differentiate Instruction?

As our students differ in performance and readiness levels, we should know how to handle them as their engagement levels vary.

Accommodating our students’ different learning needs especially those students in our class with special learning needs, need the utmost differentiation and modification.

There a lot of ways to differentiate instruction, but I will be serving you my best practices in making differentiations. Let me share with you smart ways of how to differentiate instruction.

I know that through the years of our teaching career we have developed ways on how to differentiate instruction to meet our students’ needs. But, here we go, allow me to share my bunch of ways. Who knows we are using the same strategy and we can share best practices.

4 Reliable Tips for Differentiated Instruction in a Regular Classroom

Instruction can be differentiated through its key elements: content, process, outcome/product, and learning environment. We can vary or modify these elements to provide our students with equally varied and positive learning experiences.

1. Content

What is the content? According to Tomlinson, an expert on differentiation, content refers to “knowledge, understanding, and skills” that the students are expected to learn.

In other words, content is the specific knowledge and skills that our students should learn. These are the things to be taught.

Are the learning goals of a specific lesson different from each of the learners? The answer is a resounding ‘NO’.   All your learners are expected to learn the same goals or key content. Where does differentiation take place?

Differentiation in content means the modifications that we make on the methods our students use to access the content. They choose their methods of acquiring content according to their levels and interests.

For example, in my English class, I understand that my students come with different learning styles. Some of them will internalize the story if it is read aloud. Some would prefer to have it heard on tape while others prefer silent reading.

Or, I present a story that should cater to either auditory or visual learners. Illustrations have to be presented that show the elements of the story.

At the same time, I have to read the story creatively and call for a volunteer reader to read it again.
With the help of technology, I make use of PowerPoint and video presentations.

In reading, I make sure that the reading materials are according to the readability levels of my students. Moreover, I also tap the expertise of fast readers to be the reading buddies of struggling readers.

On Content and Performance Standards

As teachers, we should know the exact difference between content and performance standards so they will not overlap.

Just answer these two questions, to differentiate the two: What specific content areas do you expect your students to learn? How would you like your students to demonstrate or incorporate specific content areas?

Put it simply: what your students should learn and what are your expectations for instruction? Hence, the performance standard is a broad statement indicating how will students effectively learn what is set on the content standard. It helps us assess to what extent our students have acquired knowledge and have mastered the skills.

So basically, content refers to the what and the how. What do we want our students to learn and how are we imparting skills and information?

For one thing, before introducing a new concept, I have to determine the level of readiness and interests of my students by using diagnostic tests and other forms of learning inventories and preliminaries. To provide our students with productive learning experiences, we need to vary the level of content.

In addition, my content delivery also varies according to the learning styles of my learners. I know that it requires more time and preparation but it’s for the best and it’s a way towards quality learning.

Invigorating the classroom with our creative content delivery will ensure productive learning schemes for our students.

Introducing different types of lesson activities will help us cater to learners’ varied needs. This makes our everyday instruction always attractive to our learners.

As we continuously find means of making our lessons appealing to our students, we are actually making our daily classroom instruction interesting.

2. Process

For our students to better understand the content, we should know how students work on varied activities. Differentiation through process demands our creativity.

We have to carefully choose our drills, learning activities, and exercises to cater to our students’ readiness, interests, and learning styles.

creating learning tables in the classroom

As our students learn the same concepts and skills, they have to be supported with tasks that address their individual needs.

Creating learning stations in our classroom will make the students more excited to perform.

On a personal thread, I make certain chair arrangements and I utilize extra tables for each learning station.

Each learning station hits a different learning style. All visual learners work at the same station while auditory learners perform on a certain learning table too.

I make sure all learning styles are accommodated. My best ingredient of creativity and skill makes this possible.

I group my students according to learning styles. The initial assessment and diagnostic I made at the very beginning help me through this.

How to cater to my visual learners, auditory learners, kinesthetic learners, reading/writing learners, and tactile learners is one of my ultimate concerns for a good start.

Grouping my students accordingly helps me and my students to stay connected. It is my way of keeping track of their progress. As they work collaboratively, they make simple discussions that help them make questions and formulate sensible answers.

Each learning station has to cater to my learner’s different levels. There should be activities for struggling, average, and advanced learners. It is quite complicated but the results are worth it.

We should compromise quality learning over quantity. This is one of the best characteristics of differentiated instruction.

The implementation of learning stations in the classroom will also foster cooperation or collaborative learning schemes. Advanced learners are encouraged to help the struggling ones without discrimination.

3. Products

Next, I differentiate instruction through products. How do my students exemplify what they have learned? Giving our students a set of options will help them tremendously.

Differing assessment modes will make a difference too. I usually allow my students to come up with their own ideas; hence, they are making use of their creativity.

allowing students to make use of their creativity

How do my students demonstrate understanding? Should they perform a similar task at the same time? Or should they make different outputs?

Differentiating products will give students the freedom to choose which activities fit them well.

Whether you decide to work individually or by group, it’s important to create rubrics to monitor if they are on the right track and to keep them guided too.

Using task cards makes sense too.  Print the tasks on a 1/4 index card and think of a way of designating them for your students.

It will allow students to express their learning through different activities. If they excel best in role-playing, then they should go for that. Whenever they want to express required learning through art or drawing, then they should be permitted to do so.

All in all, our creativity and sensitivity to our students’ needs are immensely needed for differentiated instruction to be successfully implemented.

To increase students’ interests and excitement, I let them explore each other’s outputs through a Gallery Walk. How it’s done?  I instruct my students to have a creative display of their finished outputs. Every learning table or center has a magnificent display of the outputs or projects.

As my students walk throughout the classroom, I will play live music in a modulated volume to keep them energetic and bubbly. They have fun while they’re making their observations and keeping note of their comments.

Also, this activity allows my students to have an interactive exchange of questions and answers as they visit and rotate to each station.

4. Learning Environment

How to create a positive learning environment? How is the tone of your classroom? Is it accommodating? Or, do your students display hesitations? How do you differentiate your classroom environment? Is it really necessary?

Of course, it is! The learning environment has a direct impact on the way students learn. The learning environment we create in the classroom should encourage and support learning.

Some students need to move around to learn while others just want to sit quietly while doing their tasks. The learning environment we create should be flexible to accommodate collaboration, group work, and individual setups.

Eventually, we have to remember that the tone of our classroom directly affects and influences our student’s overall performance. In particular, differentiation in the physical learning environment impacts students’ attitudes and academic growth.

Characteristics of Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated Instruction is Dynamic

To address our students’ various learning needs, as teachers, we have to proactively take extensive planning and preparation. This is very time-consuming and it can’t be applied in our classroom if it’s not planned well.

That is why researchers recommended differentiating instruction only to some units in our lessons that aim to magnify important life skills.

Differentiated Instruction is Learner-Centered

Learners are the center of the educative process. In my classroom, I plan my lessons according to my students’ needs. Certainly, I make use of my learner’s profile which was made the first few months of the school year.

Knowing their readiness levels, learning styles, and interests is an indication that my teaching styles are student-oriented.

Differentiated Instruction is a Combination of Whole-class, Group, and Individual Instruction

For more productive learning opportunities, students have to be provided with flexible learning activities. They should be given choices of which they learn.

Some students are motivated to learn as a group while others prefer to do it on their own.
Flexible class interaction should be planned and developed carefully to target students’ needs.

Overall, it may be said…

As the facilitators of learning in the classroom, we can differentiate through modifications in content, process, product, and learning environment. In like manner, we can also differentiate our instruction through students’ readiness, interests, and learning profile.

Embracing student diversity is a way to have a happy child!  Everything we do in the classroom is for our students. The more we gain an understanding of our students’ uniqueness, the more they are inclined to learn productively.

As teachers, we need to cater to the needs of our learners to help them achieve their learning goals. Recognizing their needs and learning styles requires our help to settle differences among our learners.

Understanding how our students learn helps us in our differentiation processes. We have to value deeply that our students bring different gifts and struggles.

Your differentiation techniques may differ from mine, but I’m sure that we are on the same goal of improving student learning. It’s in the bag!

Although this framework is applied to some selected units of the curriculum, our ways of implementing really matter.

To come to the point, as educators of the world, we should share best practices of differentiation. Do you have anything to add? What are your ways of consistently addressing your students’ differences?  How do you respond to student variation? How do you reach every learner in the classroom? We’re so excited to know!

Feel free to comment below and together, let’s initiate differentiation to continue providing our students access to quality education.

So, how do you differentiate?