It’s the age-old teacher conundrum: How do you ensure an entire classroom learns when every student learns differently? In the past, many educators believed learning outcomes were more or less a product of student discipline and natural abilities. But modern educators believe that changing the way we teach can change learning outcomes.
One of the most successful ways to change outcomes is known as differentiation. This teaching strategy is designed to directly address differences in learning by approaching all students as unique individuals. In a recent Walden University webinar, education expert Donna Moucha Brackin, EdD, spoke at length about differentiation and how it can be used in the classroom. Here’s an overview of her thoughts on differentiation’s key strategies.
The differentiated classroom doesn’t ask students to spend all day in a large group where everyone learns the exact same lesson in the exact same manner. Instead, it embraces centers and a diversity of materials.
Arranged throughout the classroom, centers are learning stations. Each station focuses on a different lesson or part of a lesson, allowing students to divide into small groups and focus for a select time on a specific learning activity. Students then rotate to the next station, where they have a new activity. As a teacher, you can group students by instructional level and tailor learning activities for each specific group’s needs (see: Educational Process).
When you provide students with learning materials that cover a wide range of instructional levels and relate to numerous topics and cultures, your students can find and utilize the materials most engaging to them. Materials can include everything from traditional textbooks to audio/visual resources. The goal is to ensure every student has what they need to learn in the way that suits them best.
Centers, by themselves, are not enough. You have to support centers with appropriate teaching strategies. The best strategies include:
Centers should include materials that engage students’ senses and/or allow them to manipulate objects. This is an excellent way to stimulate learning.
Additional Support for Struggling Learners
Centers should be set up so students who are struggling have enough support to reach learning objectives. The support can include special materials tailored to the needs of struggling learners and/or direct instruction from you, a teaching aide, or a classroom volunteer.
Encouragement for Advanced Learners
Centers should also support advanced learners, providing materials that allow these students to explore lessons more deeply and go beyond the learning objectives.
Not all students will be advanced or struggling. Many will be somewhere in between. But “in between” can encompass a range of learning abilities. As such, activities at centers should be tiered, allowing students to focus on the activities that best suit their learning needs.
While centers are structured to embrace all students’ learning abilities, the ultimate goal is for every student to reach the learning objectives. But measuring what students have learned doesn’t require you to resort to a standardized test. Instead, differentiated education embraces the following.
Final grades are important, but so is measuring progress. By using a multi-tiered rubric that explains why students receive a specific grade, you can help students see their progress and better understand where they need to improve.
Differentiated learning can also include differentiated products. Instead of asking every student to complete the same assignment, you can allow each student to choose from a range of products. Everything from a paper on a subject to a three-dimensional model can demonstrate how much students have learned and how well they can apply that knowledge. Other options can include allowing students to participate in a group project and/or invent their own product. Offering more ways for students to demonstrate learning can help ensure every student is engaged and able to make the most of his or her specific talents.
Helping others learn begins with learning how to teach. Even if you’re already in the classroom, it’s likely you can benefit from a teaching degree. Specifically, you should consider earning an MS in Education (MSEd degree). This advanced education degree can help you enhance your effectiveness in the classroom and put you in position to earn a higher salary and/or advance your education career.
If you’re worried about finding time for a master’s of education program, take a look at online learning. Unlike campus-based master’s in education programs, online master’s in education programs don’t require you to completely rearrange your life. For instance, instead of requiring you to drive somewhere in order to take classes, master’s in education online programs allow you to learn from home. Plus, master in education online programs give you scheduling flexibility—you can attend your MSEd classes at whatever time of day works best for you.
Online teaching degrees are making it possible for people around the world to enroll in and complete graduate programs for teachers. It’s a great way to improve your ability to change learning outcomes.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Education online degree program. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.