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Differentiated Instruction for the Diverse Classroom

Classrooms today are becoming more diverse. Every student has a unique learning style and abilities, and teachers must continue meeting students’ individual needs. Differentiated instruction is one way teachers can ensure that every student achieves his or her goals in the classroom.

One way to master the principles of differentiated instruction is through an online master’s degree in education program, where teachers can advance their understanding of pedagogical theory for real-world application. Students in an online program will gain an in-depth knowledge of how students learn at different paces — and through different methods — as well as how students differ in expressing what they have learned. By first understanding this diversity of learning, teachers can successfully implement differentiated instruction in their classrooms.

Foundations of Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction shifts classroom focus from a teacher-centered learning environment to a student-centered one. Rather than delivering one-size-fits-all lessons to the entire class at once, a teacher differentiates the lesson according to each student’s individual or small-group needs. Teachers must understand their students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds, their preferred learning styles, and any cognitive or emotional differences that may influence their learning. Most teachers will recognize some of these differences right away, but other unique characteristics will emerge throughout the school year. Teachers must be flexible and adapt their instruction as the class develops.

Benefits for Students in Differentiated Classrooms

Many teachers find differentiated instruction very beneficial; differentiated lessons keep students motivated and involved in the learning process. Students can learn at their own paces, to their own abilities, and they feel more successful in the classroom — this, in turn, encourages them on to greater learning. Many students in differentiated classrooms begin to take more ownership of what and how they learn, which leads to intrinsic rather than extrinsic learning skills.

Teachers also report that the quality of student work improves in a differentiated classroom, as does their performance on post-learning assessments, both for high-achieving and low-achieving students; this gives teachers even more motivation to continue using differentiated instruction, even when faced with prescribed curricula.

Challenges of Differentiated Instruction

While the benefits of differentiated instruction make it worth educators’ efforts, the method does present some challenges. Some teachers find that implementing differentiated instruction techniques has a steep learning curve. The initial process of finding activities and methods that work best for their own classrooms takes some time, but once they set the foundation they can duplicate their successes in lesson after lesson. Pursuing a master’s degree in education online can help teachers master the principles of differentiated instruction with fewer instances of trial and error.

More than ever, teachers must reach students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds who vary according to cognitive ability, prior knowledge and learning style. Differentiated instruction is an effective method for teachers to address a wide array of learning needs in one classroom. Teachers can meet students at their levels, inspiring self-motivated learning and generating improved classroom performance.

Learn more about the LSUS online M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction program.


Sources:

ASCD: What Research Says About Differentiated Learning

Edutopia: Myth-Busting Differentiated Instruction: 3 Myths and 3 Truths

AASA: Differentiated Instruction, From Teachers' Experiences


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