{ABC's of Inclusion} D is to Differentiate Learning

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ABC's of Inclusion, D is to Differentiate Learning; Removing the Stumbling Block

Differentiating learning (or differentiated instruction) is a framework for effective teaching that involves providing different students with different avenues to learning (typically all within the same classroom) so that all students can learn effectively, regardless of differences in ability.

Differentiating exposes all students to a vast array of learning opportunities and experiences. Typically, differentiated instruction makes use of a number of different modalities for acquiring and retaining information such as visual, auditory and kinesthetic activities. Students are able to progress at their own pace via activities that are developmentally appropriate.

Instruction can be differentiated in four ways: 1) content (what the student needs to learn or how the student will get access to the information), 2) process (activities in which the student engages in order to make sense of or master the content), 3) product (culminating projects that ask the student to rehearse, apply and extend what he or she has learned), and 4) learning environment (the way the classroom works and feels).

All of this is possible in a religious school and in the Hebrew classroom.

Examples of differentiating content: 
  • Use reading materials at varying readability levels.
  • Record text materials (this can include prayers, Hebrew practice phrases and/or modern Hebrew).
  • Use reading buddies (also a great place to utilize madrichim).
Examples of differentiating process:
  • Use tiered activities through which learners work with the same important understandings and skills (such as the same prayer), but proceed with different levels of support, challenge, or complexity.
  • Offer manipulatives or other hands-on supports for students who need them.
  • Vary the length of time a student may take to complete a task in order to provide additional support for a struggling learner or to encourage an advanced learner to pursue a topic/skill in greater depth.
Examples of differentiating product: 
  • Give students options of how to express required learning (read aloud, record a song, create an art project).
  • Allow students to work alone or in small groups on their products.
  • Encourage students to create their own product assignments as long as the assignments contain required elements.
Examples of differentiating the learning environment: 
  • Make sure there are places in the room to work quietly and without distraction, as well as places that invite student collaboration.
  • Develop routines that allow students to get help when teachers are busy with other students and cannot help them immediately.
  • Help students understand that some learners need to move around to learn, while others do better sitting quietly. READ: Teaching the Difference Between Fairness and Equality
The ABC's of Inclusion, Removing the Stumbling BlockFinally, it is worthwhile to dispel misconceptions about the use of differentiated instruction.

Differentiating instruction “dumbs-down” the content and isn’t fair to the more advanced students in a class.
Differentiating instruction is absolutely fair. Students should not be compared to one another or to an arbitrary level of expectation. All students should be working toward progress from their current level of functioning.

Differentiating instruction is just a fancy name for group work, centers or station activities.
Differentiating instruction enables students to progress at their own individual pace via activities that are developmentally appropriate for each learner. It exposes all students to a vast array of learning opportunities and experiences. While the use of group work, centers and station activities can all be effective tools in differentiating instruction, simply assigning students to work in groups or letting children rotate through stations where everyone completes the same activity is not an effective form of differentiation.

Differentiating instructions doesn’t allow for the direct teaching of skills and concepts.
Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Much of differentiated instruction involves direct, explicit instruction in pre-teaching concepts and/or skills or direct whole class instruction followed by small group and/or individual review.

Want more? I'd love to lead a workshop on differentiating instruction for your teachers!

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