Mention differentiated instruction during a faculty meeting, and you’ll get mixed responses. Some teachers embrace it wholeheartedly, while others fear the word like the plague. Personally, I believe that differentiation often receives negative responses because of misconceptions. Yet, these misconceptions will clear up once the basics of differentiation are understood. So, why is differentiated instruction important? Here are a few reasons why.
All Students Are Different
Students come to school with different backgrounds and experiences. Some are ready for school while others are not. You will have students with disabilities and other issues that hinder learning.
Yet, you have to meet these students where they are at and teach them on their level. You’d look at me like I was crazy if I asked you to perform heart surgery. Teachers know how to teach; doctors are trained in medicine. Likewise, each student walks into the classroom knowing different things, and you have to be prepared for that fact.
Having to Know Your Students
Therefore, you have to teach on different levels and meet the needs of all your students. To do this, you have to know your students.
It’s more than just knowing your data (test scores, reading levels, etc.). It’s about knowing your students- individual learning styles, home life, prior learning experiences, and interests.
Students are more than a score. They are people with personalities and feelings. Take these into account when planning lessons, as well.
To accomplish all of this, you have to do your homework. Differentiated instruction forces you to know your students better. In return, your interest in your students will encourage them to be interested in what you have to say, as well.
Differentiating Instruction Increases Student Engagement
When you are tailoring your instruction to meet the needs of all students, your students will pay attention. Honestly, no one wants to pay attention to something that doesn’t pay attention to them.
So, it makes sense that the more you connect with your students, the more they will connect with what you are trying to teach them.
In return, this increased engagement produces several benefits. First of all, increased engagements equals fewer discipline problems. The students are too focused and busy to act out.
Not only that, but engaged students are actively learning. More of the senses are involved, thus deeper learning takes place. Thus, students comprehend the material better and retain information better.
Even more, when you vary your instruction to match student learning styles, you’re guaranteeing student success because they’re receiving information according to how they learn best.
So, why is differentiated instruction important? It’s a win-win situation. Students learn more, and you enjoy a class that is tuned in and actively participating.
It Helps You Plan Ahead
Since you’re teaching to every student, you have to think about the needs of every student when planning lessons. You can’t simply throw a lesson together and expect it to be differentiated.
Differentiated instruction requires you to be proactive in your lesson planning. More than that, it requires backward design.
How does that work? To begin, you start with the end result- the outcome. What do you want your students to be able to do? These are the standards that you’re teaching.
Next, you create the way that you’re going to assess mastery of this standard. Luckily, you can incorporate differentiation in this piece, as well.
Did I just say that you don’t have make every student take a multiple choice test? Yes, I did!
Differentiated instruction includes allowing for various end products.
One way you can make this happen is by giving them choices. Create assessment options so that students prove they’ve learned the material in a way that feels comfortable to them..
Then, you have to decide how you’re going to get them there. Here is a great place to incorporate even more differentiation. If you know you that little Johnny is a hands-on learner, then you know that you’ll need to include some hands-on activities to utilize his learning style. Or, if you know that Allison likes to draw, you can include an activity that requires drawing.
As you can see, if you plan your lessons this way, you’ll need to make extra time for planning.
You might be thinking that this means more work, but it actually isn’t. Yes, you’ll plan more, but the result is that your students do more of the work during class.
What will you be doing during class? You’ll get to watch authentic learning take place as you actively monitor students and check for understanding.
You’ll be surprised by how often you’ll catch yourself stopping to observe the joy on a student’s face as they are learning in a way that connects with them. All of this comes from answering the question as to why is differentiated instruction important.
Growth as a Teacher
As you’re planning your lessons and learning different activities to use, you’re growing as a teacher. You’re strengthening your skill set.
Plus, as your students achieve more success, and they will with differentiated instruction, your value as a teacher increases.
I hate to mention those monsters known as teacher evaluations, but they are a reality. Bolstering your confidence in using differentiation improves your teaching proficiency.
In addition, increased engagement, better student performance, and varied instructional strategies will increase your performance rating, as well.
Ultimately, using differentiation will increase your ability to teach all students. As the number of instructional strategies and activities in your teacher toolkit increases, you’ll be able to rely on these again and again.
When you have a struggling student that isn’t responding to your instruction, you can fall back on one of the activities that you learned through differentiating your instruction.
Just be sure to match the activity to the needs of your student.
Take it from me, I use this strategy often. Even though every student is different, sometimes I recognize a general pattern among my students.
When I recognize a pattern, I use an activity that I know worked well with similar students in the past. The only changes I have to make is a few small tweaks to personalize the learning even more. For example, I might make a change in the topic of an activity to match a student’s interest, but the activity still remains the same.
Why is Differentiated Instruction Important?
The answer is simple. Differentiated instruction makes the learning about your students. From your planning to your implementation, everything focuses on the needs of your students. Even your professional development concentrates on your students. And not just your students as a group, but differentiation focuses on each student individually. That intensive level of teaching makes you a better teacher and helps your students learn better. And, these should be the goals of every teacher.
Leave a comment if you enjoyed this post or if you have any questions about differentiated instruction. I’d love to know what you think.
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