Behind the Scenes: Before Students Arrive

3207552_medPart I in the Current Series: “Building a Differentiated Classroom”

“Differentiated classroom” is the new buzz term in education, but the concept is as old as the one-room schoolhouse. Chances are, you’re already incorporating some differentiation, even if you’ve never heard of it!

In a differentiated classroom, teachers plan lessons that accommodate different  styles of learning, acknowledging that one student’s road map is not necessarily another’s and that page one of the curriculum guide may not always be the best place to start. The goal is to reach every learner effectively.

Like any classroom, a differentiated classroom requires careful planning long before the first eager student arrives. Whether you are new to differentiation or have been differentiating for a while, the weeks before school begins are the best time to set the groundwork.

Examining Your Philosophy
The first step towards differentiating is to self-assess your philosophy of teaching and learning. Teachers who successfully differentiate instruction are committed to these basic principles:

  • All children can learn.
  • Every child deserves teachers who will discover and nurture his or her strengths.
  • Active, engaged learning means that students are moving often, talking with one another, and not all working on the same thing at the same time.
  • Students must accept responsibility for their learning.
  • Understanding multiple intelligences and modalities of learning is an important piece of assessing and planning instruction.

Getting Started
As you incorporate these philosophies, be patient with yourself. Rome wasn’t built in a day. No one can differentiate every lesson for every student every day, nor is it necessary. Choose one learning center, one unit, or even a single lesson for the first month that you will consciously differentiate. Prepare two or three tiered activities for that center, unit, or lesson. Start small, see what works, and modify your structure and approach as you go.

Recognizing Past Successes
Whether your last teaching assignment was student teaching or your twentieth year in the classroom, reflect carefully upon what you accomplished. All engaged, motivated teachers have, at some point, instinctively differentiated. Did you discover a hidden talent in a shy student? Light a spark that inspired a student to independently learn more about something? Use music, art, or physical movement to introduce, reinforce, or extend instruction? Offer learners choices in assignments or materials?

You are already differentiating! Build on your strengths to add more opportunities for differentiation.

This is part one in a four-part series on differentiated classrooms. The next segment will cover tips on physically setting up a classroom for individualized learning.

Post Author: This post was submitted by Scholastic and adapted from The Scholastic Differentiated Instruction Plan Book.

How do you differentiate instruction? Leave a comment to share your ideas! One comment from this four-part series on differentiation will be selected to win a School Box gift card, and another comment will earn a Scholastic book of your choice…so comment away!

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