Are you looking for ways to meet the diverse needs of your students better? Classroom differentiation strategies can help you tailor your lessons to individual students and create a more inclusive classroom environment. But what does differentiation actually look like in practice?
In this blog post, we’ll explore the four classroom differentiation strategies: content, process, product, and environment. Then, we’ll discuss how each type can be applied in the classroom and how to identify differentiation opportunities in your teaching practice. So, let’s dive in and ignite your teaching with effective differentiation strategies!
Differentiating the Content
To effectively differentiate the content in your classroom, you need to consider the “what” of what you are teaching. By tailoring your lessons to meet the needs of your individual learners, you can provide more effective instruction and create a more engaging learning environment. One way to differentiate the content of your instruction is through the use of small group learning opportunities. This approach allows you to provide tailored instruction to specific groups of students, with lessons that range from reviewing previously learned concepts to offering more advanced challenges. Math class, for example, can be divided into guided math groups, while guided reading and writing sessions can be used for language instruction.
In addition, you can differentiate content in whole group lessons by incorporating open-ended activities that provide multiple entry points for students. For instance, when presenting a division question, some students may use repeated subtraction to solve the problem, while others may use more advanced processes. Encouraging students to use multiple approaches to solve problems and valuing their diverse solutions can create a more inclusive and differentiated learning environment. Ultimately, by differentiating the content of your instruction, you can meet the diverse needs of your students, promote engagement, and create a more effective and inclusive learning environment.
Differentiating the Process
When it comes to teaching, it’s not just about what we teach but also how we teach it. This is where differentiating the process comes in. Differentiating the process is about teaching students different ways to learn the material. It’s not just about reading an article and answering questions or watching a video; it’s about providing students with multiple inputs and experiences that cater to their different learning styles.
In math, for example, we can teach students multiple strategies for solving a problem, such as short division, long division, or the big seven. By showing them different ways to approach a problem, we allow them to find the best process for them. The same can be said for science concepts, where students may need to experience a concept in addition to reading and watching videos. For instance, students learning about erosion can benefit from hands-on experiences, like pouring sand and water into a tray to see how erosion works.
By providing multiple ways to learn, we level the playing field for students who don’t necessarily learn in the same way as others. It’s essential to recognize that there is not just one way to learn something and that different students may need different processes to succeed. As teachers, we need to design our lessons with this in mind, providing multiple types of processes to teach the same concept so that students can experience and learn in the way that suits them best.
Differentiating the Product
The third type of differentiation is called differentiating the product. This approach focuses on what students do to show their learning, often in an assessment. Traditionally, teachers have relied on tests, quizzes, and pencil-and-paper tasks to assess student learning quickly. However, there are many different ways that students can show what they know, allowing us to differentiate. To do this, we can go back to the curriculum and look at the expectations we are expected to teach. Then, we take those expectations and say, “I need evidence of this learning objective and this skill.” When we focus on the assessment of skills and knowledge, not task completion, we allow ourselves to open up and broaden the types of assignments our students can pick from.
Try using a choice board of assessments so that students can demonstrate their knowledge and understanding using a wider variety of learning. For instance, you can create a choice board of assessments or a mini project task choice board, with nine different options that students can choose from to demonstrate their understanding and learning of a specific set of skills. For example, students could make a jersey, create a poster, write a song, do a script, or do an interview. The possibilities are endless.
When creating a rubric for differentiated products, you must focus on demonstrating the knowledge and skills. Therefore, we don’t need a separate rubric for each of the nine activities. Instead, we can assess the knowledge being demonstrated by the task. By differentiating the product, we are allowing students to showcase their learning in a way that best suits their strengths and learning style. It also allows us as educators to assess our students in a fair and more accurate way, allowing for a more well-rounded evaluation of student understanding.
Differentiating the Environment
Differentiating the environment is the final way to differentiate in the classroom. While we cannot change the classroom’s physical environment, we can still create different conditions in which our students can learn. One of the simplest ways to do this is by using flexible seating during independent work time. Different students have different preferences when it comes to learning environments, and some students may work best sitting at a desk, while others may prefer lying on the floor or sitting in a quiet corner.
We also need to consider the distractions that our students may encounter while working. Sitting in a low-traffic area, sitting underneath a desk, or using a privacy board can mitigate visual distractions. Students distracted by sound may require different solutions, such as noise-canceling headphones, white noise, or even classical music. It’s essential to recognize that not all students are the same and have different preferences regarding the learning environment. By providing alternate seating arrangements or environmental differentiation like sound control or privacy, students can learn and demonstrate their knowledge in a way that works best for them. Again, it’s about helping them identify their preferred conditions and how to meet those needs. By doing so, we create a comfortable and inclusive environment for all students to learn and thrive.
Start Using Classroom Differentiation Strategies
As teachers, we know that every student learns differently. That’s why differentiating instruction in your classroom is a powerful way to ensure all students can learn and succeed. By recognizing that students learn differently and tailoring instruction to meet their needs, you create a more inclusive and supportive learning environment. Differentiating content, process, product, and environment can all contribute to student success, and the key is to use various options to reach all learners. Remember, these classroom differentiation strategies are not about doing everything differently all the time but about creating a range of learning experiences for students that meet their unique needs. With a little creativity and flexibility, you can transform your classroom into a space where all students can thrive.
Want to try these classroom differentiation strategies but unsure where to start?
Check out these ignited math resources that come with built-in differentiation strategies.
- Ignited Math: Grade 3 – Whole Year Bundle | Ontario Math
- Ignited Math: Grade 4 – Whole Year Bundle | Ontario Math
- Ignited Math: Grade 5 – Whole Year Bundle | Ontario Math
- Ignited Math: Grade 6 – Whole Year Bundle | Ontario Math
Want to hear more from Patti? Check out her blog or find her on Facebook and Instagram!