Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Differentiated Instruction in the Content Areas

Recently in my grad class I had a student who is a high school social studies teacher discuss with me about differentiated instruction. She believes this fits in with elementary school students but doesn’t apply to high school students. She didn’t really understand how she could do this in her class and still meet the standards. I really wish I had more time to talk with her about this and since I didn’t, I will add my ideas here.

To start with, I don’t see how you can meet the needs of your students without differentiating instruction. Not all students learn the same way and as long as we teach with this cookie cutter methodology, we will lose many students along the way.  I think this is just an excuse for not wanting to take the time to plan this way. The old lecture, notes, worksheets is the easy way to teach but are you really reaching all the students that way? Just because they can’t complete a worksheet doesn’t always mean they don’t understand the material. Or maybe they don’t understand it because you didn’t teach in a way that they could learn it.

I think the hardest part is knowing how to start differentiating instruction for your students so I will try to give you a “recipe” that may help you.

Start with your essential question.

Align it with your standards.

How is this relevant to their lives? Make it mean something to the students. Why do they need to know this?

Take your old lesson plan (or find one online for your topic) and revamp it. Bring it to life! Modify it to meet the needs of your students.

Are they visual learners? Then find them visuals (pictures, photo albums, videos) that give the necessary information. Are they auditory learners? Have the interview people who might have first hand knowledge of the material or get audio recordings that they can listen to in order to get the information.

What different resources can you offer to students for them to get the information they need (different reading materials, videos, manipulatives, samples, speakers, Skype). Don’t just stick with the textbook.

Think of different ways that the students can show you they understand the material (or skill) without just completing worksheets. Look at the individual abilities and think about what they can create. Ask the students for input. They might create a brochure or poster. Some might create a dance or a song. Some could write a play and if possible, act it out. They can interview people and share the interview (either video or audio). If the person isn’t alive, they can role play the interview. They could have a panel and the class can ask questions. Think outside the box!

Yes, this takes planning but the end results can be so rewarding. It will take practice and perseverance but it can be done. Once you start doing this, it will get easier.

What suggestions would you have for the content area teacher? Please share.

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