Differentiation in the classroom is one way you can reach all of your students. In this second installment on how to differentiate instruction in your 4th-8th grade classroom, you’ll learn five easy tips to create success for all students. It’s easier than you may think.
1. Differentiate instructions by setting a bulleted list on a student’s desk
This simple trick offers students the ability to access the instructions repeatedly throughout the work time. Many students are overwhelmed by their surroundings. Even though you’ve written directions on the board, sometimes the act of looking up to read the next step can create a challenge.
Help students access learning by reading the directions to chosen students and taping the directions down with one piece of tape. This way, a student may not need to ask you or others what to do.
Some kiddos are really shy, and asking for clarification may be a hurdle to learning. An additional bonus from this simple act is that you don’t need to use your voice. If you notice the student is off task or lost, simply walk to the desk and point to the specific instruction as a reminder.
2. Use strategic buddies to differentiate access to curriculum
Buddy-up struggling kiddos with students who are independent workers. This takes the focus off of the student needing more help, who might not necessarily like working with the teacher in a small group. Many students don’t like being singled out as someone needing more help. The intentional buddy is a great option in such cases. Just make sure you know your students well enough to ensure the pairing will be productive.
In the buddy partnership, the teacher may want to assign roles. For example, if the task is to read from the social studies text, one student may be the reader while the other has a few post-it notes for tagging key information.
Switch roles throughout the work time, but if you notice that the beginning paragraphs are less challenging to read, assign those to your struggling reader. It also helps to give students focus questions to consider as they read.
One activity I especially like to do with strategic buddies is task card work. Because task cards are often used for practice and review, students have likely been exposed to the information you’d like them to learn. Take figurative language for example. Your students have practiced identifying types of figurative language. Each has a list with definitions/and or examples.
Post your task cards around the room and give a clipboard (or a book on which to write) to each student. Allow a certain amount of time for kids to rotate around the room trying to complete the task cards. You can find an entire year’s worth of task cards here that focus on seasonal figurative language.
3. Reducing the workload provides differentiation in the classroom
This can look very different depending on the circumstances.
- Reduce the number of problems
- Write in sentence stems for students to begin the written response process
- Fill in some of the answers to help students remember or locate the rest of the information
- If students are using a text, write a page number down where the target information is located
- Make a deal that if the student does part of the page, you’ll sign off the rest of the work
The point is to not overwhelm students, which can quickly lead to shutting down. You want students to feel success so they’ll continue to try. As they make progress, you can phase out the modifications. Read even more about differentiation in the classroom in this other informative blog post.
4. Directly teach study skills and offer a variety of strategies for differentiation
It can be a mistake to assume that students know how to study and retain information. If you can teach 3-4 strategies for studying, you are setting students up for success. Not everybody accesses learning in the same way. You should teach the RCRC (Read It, Cover It, Recite It, Check It) method to begin. But branch out.
I always think it’s a relief for my kiddos to hear that I struggled with learning. For me, I had to do a task many times in order to retain information. Directly tell the class that there are many ways to learn and retain information. Some of us need to draw things out. Some of us need to hear it in a rhyme or a song. (I love using songs to spark learning and memorization. See my preposition work here and my multiplication practice here. Songs are a element in both units.) Mnemonic devices may be just the ticket for some kiddos.
Games like Zip-Around or Zip It Up are great for practicing a concept. You can also make little books with key information. My friend Kathy at Tried and True Teaching Tools has great videos on making all types of little books. Follow this link. Kahoot offers a way to create games and have all students practice. Flash cards are always beneficial for certain types of information.
5. Frontload information for students needing differentiation in the classroom
Pre-teach students some of what they’ll be learning in the next few days. Any support class that kids have during the day provides the perfect opportunity to teach some information ahead of time. If this can’t happen, invite a group of students to your group work area and show them what they’ll be learning tomorrow or later this week.
One thing that empowers a kiddo who may find school a struggle is knowing something about a new topic being introduced to the class. Make sure to call on them if they agree to it.
There are so many ways to provide differentiation in the classroom. These are just five strategies that I have used with success. You and I both know that each student is unique. Not everything works for everyone, but with enough options every student can be successful.
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