Differentiated instruction is a process to approach teaching and learning for students with differing abilities in the same class. The intent of differentiating instruction is to maximize each student’s growth and individual success by meeting each student where he or she is assisting in the learning process (Polloway, Patton, and Serna, 2005). It’s an individualized instructional method. It is used to help students with diverse needs learn using a general curriculum.
There are several approaches to using differentiated instruction when teaching learners with cultural or special needs. Every student has different learning styles, behaviors, and interests. It is up to teachers to meet state and district standards when teaching different learners no matter their needs. There are several ways to make sure students meet these standards. Kapusnick and Hauslein (2001) list the most common instructional strategies as acceleration, curriculum compacting, independent study, flexible grouping, independent-learning centers, complex questions, tiered activities, and contracts. Students who show mastery of instructional material through preassessment can learn at their own pace, acceleration. Curriculum compacting condenses learning and allows students to move ahead of material already learned while staying on grade level. During independent study, students progress at their own pace until they master a task by a due date agreed upon by the teacher. Teachers use flexible grouping based on students’ needs, interests, and abilities to allow students with similar capabilities to work together. Independent-learning centers provide students with remediation opportunities by investigating a topic in depth. In a differentiated classroom, the teacher asks complex questions that are open-ended, appeal to higher-order thinking skills, allow adequate wait time for answers (more than the traditional 1-3 seconds), and provide opportunities for peer discussions and follow-up questions. Additionally, tiered activities are used to promote success because the student chooses his or her own level of accomplishment (Kapusnick and Hauslein, 2001). And contracts are used as an agreement that allows students to take responsibility for completing tasks. Kapusnick and Hauslein, in an inclusive environment, students at all levels of understanding can learn more effectively if teachers adjust instruction for individual learning style and needs (2001). Vygotsky and Gardner’s theories of instructional practices are ways to assist teachers with presenting information to their learners. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences asserted that students learn better and more easily when teachers use a variety of delivery methods, providing students with learning experiences that maximizes their strengths (Kapusnick and Hauslein, 2001). Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development supports the notion that effective education facilitates development by assisting the progression to each stage through student-teacher interactions and opportunities to discuss and share ideas (Kapusnick and Hauslein, 2001). This theory requires teachers to help students with special needs by making accommodations to meet their needs. Teachers assist them until they reach their comfort zone of completing tasks independently or with minimal assistance.
Students are taught the using the same curriculum, with different methods. The variation of activities provided during instruction should reflect the needs of the students. During differentiated instruction, teachers help students make sense of learning. The steps to using differentiated instruction are content, process, and product. Content is what we teach, process includes how we teach and how students learn, and product is the way our students demonstrate what they have learned (Levy, 2008). In order to find out the students’ abilities, teachers must first assess their skills. This lets the teacher...
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Hoover, J. & Patton, J. (2005). Differentiating curriculum and instruction for English-language learners with special needs. Intervention in School and Clinic, Vol.40, No. 4, p. 231-235.
Kapusnick, R & Hauslein, C. (Summer, 2001). The ‘silver cup’ of differentiated instruction. Kappa Delta Pi Record, p. 156-159.
Levy, H. (2008). Meeting the needs of all students through differentiated instruction: helping every child reach and exceed standards. The Clearing House Vol. 81, No. 4, p. 161-164.
Mastropieri, M., Scruggs, T., Norland, J., Berkeley, S., McDuffie, K., Tornquist, E., & Connors, N. (2006). Differentiated curriculum enhancement in inclusive middle school science: effects on classroom and high-stakes tests. The Journal of Special Education Vol. 40, NO. 3, p. 130-137.
Polloway, E., Patton, J., & Serna, L. (2005) Strategies for teaching learners with special needs (8th Ed). New Jersey: Pearson-Merrill Prentice Hall.
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