Differentiated Learning

Teaching is an art. Different people learn in different styles. Yet most educational systems follow a uniform approach.

This traditional model of education has remained unchanged for over 100 years, but the world of education is changing, forever. No doubt, every teacher learns and teaches things differently but how he applies this knowledge makes him different from others.

With the ever-increasing competitiveness in today’s higher education industry, there has been a growing movement to improve the learning experience of students. This is to ensure they meet and exceed expectations.

To achieve this, teaching becomes more and more complex as each student has their own learning style. The more teachers focus on differentiating the teaching process, the more results will be achieved.

What is differentiated learning?

Differentiated learning is a range of instructional practices designed to help students progress at their own pace, improving long-term outcomes.

Instead of controlling all aspects of the learning process (including time on task, curriculum focus, teaching strategies) to ensure that all students master the same material at the same rate, differentiated learning fosters individual student initiative.

The term differentiated learning is often used interchangeably with more traditional terms such as flexible grouping, heterogeneous grouping, mixed group, multiple-ability group, and low student-to-teacher ratios.

Differentiated learning is an innovative system in which each student is differentiated to meet his/her own individual needs and pace within the classroom, ensuring that all students receive instruction at a level at which they are able to learn.

By prioritising what students find meaningful, differentiated learning increases the likelihood of increased engagement and understanding.

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What are the benefits of differentiated learning?

Results Are Positive

The Differentiated Learning approach increases achievement by providing individualized support. Students are given the opportunity to work at their own pace, with extra instruction in areas that require additional support.

They receive immediate feedback from their teacher/instructor and have opportunities to test themselves prior to receiving feedback.

A growth mindset is promoted so students try again when an area needs improvement, rather than avoiding that skill completely. Their confidence increases as they demonstrate success on assessments.

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It is Learner-Centric

Differentiate Learning is a pedagogy that puts the learner at the centre of attention, irrespective of his or her interests and aptitude. It approaches ‘teaching’ by making available a wide spectrum of resources, tasks, and technologies.

It facilitates learners pursuing their own interests to become more self-directed, seeking out needed resources and selecting appropriate tasks and environments for specific areas of learning.

Differentiate Learning method is therefore about helping the learner to move towards greater autonomy.

Increases Engagement

The biggest benefit of differentiated learning is increased student engagement or as some teachers call it… “buy-in”.

When students are presented with different types of questions and encouraged to make inferences and guesses and ask for help, their level of engagement increases significantly.

When they are engaged with their learning they want to learn more because they feel challenged and learn well when challenged by problem-solving.

Increasingly Possible with Tech & AI

In the digital age, it’s never been easier or more necessary to support teaching and learning that helps all learners reach their full potential.

AI-powered products deliver differentiated learning in multiple ways: they reduce the burden of teachers, expand students’ access to a broad range of expertise and different learning styles, enable seamless student-to-student collaboration and bring adaptive tools to all learners at scale.

Gives Students Choice

Students will get to choose the pace of their learning. They can go at their own pace, work ahead or catch up. Students have the power to control the rate that they learn.

Teachers no longer need to suffer through empty seats; more children feel like they are influencing their day. Students can choose how they learn best, whether that’s with board games, puzzles, games on the tablet or a combination of all.

Differentiated learning channels their interests and motivations and means each of them is engaged and on track to master the curriculum goals.

What are the key elements of differentiated learning?

Content

It’s all about guiding students to a greater understanding of content through differentiated learning, the practice of tailoring lesson plans and activities so they can access information and ideas that matter.

The goal is to help all students learn at the highest level possible, regardless of their starting point or background. While students may learn the same content, they use different methods to meet specific learning goals.

The ability to access key content using a variety of methods is one of the most important components of this learning method.

Process

The differentiating process requires students to learn by doing. Every student in every classroom learns differently, and it is important for teachers to recognise that in order to provide the most effective learning environment they can.

You may need to modify the length of time you spend on a particular skill or practise skill based on the group of students, allowing them to master some skills at different rates.

There will be times when one student will need more time than another; times when the group can work in pairs or small groups and others when individuals have one-on-one help.

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The goals and objectives you establish for each curriculum unit is the blueprint for designing a differentiated instruction lesson.

Once your unit goals have been established, teachers must create opportunities for students to demonstrate what they have come to know, understand, and be able to do after an extended period of learning.

These opportunities are best represented by authentic assessments that arise from the real world. This allows students the flexibility of demonstrating what they know. It empowers them to fail, and yet still succeed.

Learning Environment

With a clear understanding of the varied emotions and feelings of their students, teachers are better equipped to create an optimal learning environment.

By taking into account what people need to feel in order to learn effectively—including safety, belonging, autonomy, relatedness, and competence—teachers can help foster a sense of well-being that will encourage learning.

All that is required for a learning environment is an attention-getting stimulus, opportunity for some behaviour to occur, and reinforcement (or some consequence) of that behaviour.

How can teachers differentiate?

A great place to start is with differentiated instruction that uses varied teaching strategies appropriate for each student.

Fundamentally, differentiation occurs when teachers understand students’ needs, and when teachers organise their classrooms in ways that enable students to learn in their own way and at their own pace.

As a teacher, here is how you can differentiate your class:

By Readiness

Your students come to you with different goals and abilities—it’s critical that teachers align their instruction to match what their students are capable of doing.

This means that teachers create lessons that require the least amount of prior knowledge or skills. Therefore, all students are able to participate but only those with the necessary skills will gain additional information from their participation.

By Interest

A teacher must first obtain knowledge of an individual student’s interests before creating content that is aligned with a specific student’s interest.

It is a known fact that students are interested in different things. Whether it is in physical education or math, there are certain things that catch the eye of some individuals more so than others.

Students engage with their learning by selecting material that interests them most, and then the content adapts to meet these individual interests, allowing for targeted learning.

By Learning Profile

The excitement of learning consists of making connections. It is through these connections that individuals develop passions for mathematics, literary analysis, engineering principles, and technology problem-solving.

Students learn differently than adults. What excites an adult may challenge a child to learn. Learning Profile helps teachers design lessons that match students’ learning styles and thereby engage them in the excitement of discovery.

What are the challenges of differentiated learning?

Finding the right methods to reach a range of learners with differing strengths and weaknesses is a challenge in itself, but teaching different lessons at the same time to both general education and special education classrooms is even more difficult.

Time Consuming

The biggest challenge that teachers face with differentiated learning is time. It requires knowledge of how to teach and assess a variety of different students, as well as a deep understanding of each student’s learning needs.

Resource Intensive

Differentiated learning is resource-intensive and can be difficult to implement. You will need to create extra resources for students who struggle or achieve at different levels.

Needed resources must be made available to support teachers. Teachers with less experience in this area may also need more guidance while developing new ways of teaching.

Not Suitable for Every Student

Differentiated learning can be quite beneficial to those that need it but this teaching style is not for everyone. It is important to understand where, why and how this teaching style should be used.

This is one of the challenges to differentiated learning that you should take into consideration before you start trying to implement it in your classroom.

Students at the higher end of the spectrum learn to take in information very quickly and do not benefit as much from differentiated lessons, while students at the lower end of the spectrum generally need more time to learn content.

Differentiated learning is designed to reach both ends of this spectrum, but does not work on all students who are at different ends.

Is there any difference between Personalised, Differentiated, and Individualised Learning

The terms “personalised,” “differentiated,” and “individualised” learning are often used interchangeably. For many of us, none of these terms is new. We hear them regularly in our schools or from our children.

However, understanding the differences between each one can be more difficult. When we understand how each one differs, we can intentionally use each strategy for the context in which it is most effective.

Personalised Learning

Personalised learning is a method of teaching that tailors the curriculum to each student’s particular needs, goals, and interests.

In a personalised learning classroom, both students and teachers create learning plans that are tailored to the student’s specific needs.

Differentiated Learning

Differentiated learning is about teaching everyone in your class a subject in the way that he or she can best understand it.

This approach is based on the fact that all students are different, even in the same classroom.

The purpose is to provide each student with individual treatment and allow them to achieve the same educational outcomes.

Individualised Learning

In individualized learning, students learn at their own pace as they use a variety of methods and materials and then reflect on their progress.

Students learn at their own skill level and pace, rather than being grouped into levels of learning.

Conclusion

One of the biggest problems in our education system is that not every student learns at the same pace. There are those who are fast learners, while others are slow and some are average; and to make matters worse, there is no education system that caters to their learning needs.

The result? A horrible dropout rate, and impatience from the students as well as the teachers towards them.

Differentiated learning has proven effective in terms of better results, progress and satisfaction. It caters to the needs of individual students so that each student will receive appropriate training and relevant materials.

Additional Information and FAQs

Does differentiation really work in the classroom?
The short answer is YES! It can be a very powerful strategy for getting your students engaged in the content, improving their attitudes and their actions.

However, it will only work if you are willing to do the preparation and planning. Teachers have to be prepared to use differentiation strategies for different kinds of learners.

How do I apply differentiated learning in my classroom?

Learning is a complex process that requires more than motivation and resources; this is where differentiated instruction comes in.

To design customised instructions for all learning styles, you must first identify the learning style preferences of your students.

You can then create individualized learning plans for each student to help them become effective lifelong learners.

What is the effect of technology on differentiated learning?

Currently, technology is being used as an instructional method for differentiated learning.

Teachers who have embraced technology can communicate with each other in order to better teach students of varying abilities, levels of understanding, and cultures.

They also have access to resources such as videos, websites, blogs, newsletters, podcasts and wikis that are outside of the classroom.

What is Hybrid Learning?

Hybrid learning is a combination of traditional classroom learning and online learning methods.

There are many variations when it comes to hybrid learning, but some of the most common aspects of it include a mix of face-to-face, virtual, and pedagogical tools being used by students.

This includes using traditional tools such as books and projectors in a class setting; having an online platform where students can review material that was covered in classroom settings; having online discussion forums among other things.

How does differentiated learning work?
Differentiated learning is a pedagogy that acknowledges that learners have different starting points on the path to acquiring subject matter knowledge and skills, and provides differentiated opportunities by personalising instruction.

Differentiated learning strategies involve methods of grouping students into heterogeneous classes and providing differentiated instruction for each group of students based on their individual needs.

This strategy recognises that learners come with individual backgrounds, road maps, and an understanding of the content. They may require more time or resources to appropriately learn the content.

The goal is to meet students where they are with the activities, pace, and approach that will best engage them in learning and successfully move them toward mastery of subject-specific content.

What is the role of a teacher in a differentiated classroom?
In a differentiated classroom, the teacher sees herself as an instructional facilitator, an expert on child learning, on how best to help individuals and groups learn.

The teacher assumes an instructional leadership role in his/her classroom. This means the teacher has a vision of what is to be the desired state of learning in his/her classroom at the end of each cycle of instruction.

He/she knows where each student and subgroup of students is in terms of mastery of the instructional goals. By observing students in their interactions with each other and with him/her, he/she can identify areas where a particular student or group needs more support or enrichment.

Then, they use their understanding of students to provide instruction that best fits their individual needs and learning styles.

What are some differentiated learning strategies?
Learning can be fun. Differentiate your instruction by bringing the experience of discovering an active learning strategy into your classroom. The strategies below will help put your students in charge of the learning process through individual and group inquiry and/or activities:

  • Create learning stations
  • Use task cards
  • Interview students
  • Target different senses within lessons
  • Use the think-pair-share strategy
  • Make time for journaling
  • Implement reflection and goal-setting exercises
  • Offer different types of free study time
  • Group students with similar learning styles
  • Give different sets of reading comprehension activities
  • Assign open-ended projects
  • Analyze your differentiated instruction strategy on a regular basis