Meeting Students Where They Are

Sep 03, 2023

Differentiation means providing instruction and learning experiences tailored to meet individual students' needs. This can be done in various ways, including modifying assignments, grouping students differently, or using different instructional strategies. 

To differentiate instruction effectively, it is crucial to understand how each student learns best. Often times differentiated instruction is overly complicated. This is because it is believed the more individualized the instruction is, the better it will be. 
However, this isn’t necessarily true. That is why it is important to develop a sustainable plan for meeting learners where they are. 

Here are some tips to help make differentiation more effective: 

Have The End Goal When Designing a Plan

The first step in creating a successful differentiated instruction plan is to have the end goal in mind. Think about what students need to learn and how you can best help them achieve these goals. Working with the end in mind helps clarify what you will teach, why you're teaching it, and how you'll measure success. 
There are three important stages of designing differentiated instruction with an end goal in mind: 
-Identify the desired results you want from each instruction to help anticipate skill levels and proficiency. 
-Identify measures of success and tools that indicate student learning.
-Create a learning plan that is tailored to each student's needs.

Have Open-Ended Tasks For Your Students 
Open-ended tasks are great for helping students learn to think critically and explore different learning opportunities. These can be activities that don't have a single correct answer or one way of completing them but instead provide the opportunity to explore connections and relationships between ideas. Open-ended tasks are a great alternative to level groups and planning different tasks for each group, as many teachers do. This is because using level groups often leaves an opportunity gap between students with low and higher test scores.
Open-ended tasks can help meet students where they are by allowing them to demonstrate their understanding differently. This could include creating video projects, writing stories, or designing models. For example, you could ask students to write different endings to a story to show their understanding of the plot or create visual models to explain a theme concept. 

Create A Menu Of Options And Choices
As some learners will finish the open-ended tasks earlier, you can keep creating a menu of choices of what to do after the open-ended tasks. The menu should be aligned with the student's learning goals. For example, if it's after a math unit, you can provide them with math games or puzzles to help students further their understanding of the topic.
If it's after a literacy unit, you can ask them to pick different books to read. Allowing them to choose and complete books will help build an independent and sustainable reading routine. 
Providing students with choices and options helps them to become more independent learners. This is because they are actively engaged in learning and taking ownership of their learning. 

Allow Students To Self-Reflect 
Differentiating instruction is not only about the teacher providing students with different tasks and activities to complete. It's also essential to allow them to self-reflect. This can be done by having students journal or ask questions that help them reflect on their learning. 
Self-reflection is an integral part of learning as it helps students to assess their progress and identify areas that need improvement. It also helps them to become more aware of their learning styles and preferences, which can help them better understand themselves as learners. 
You can use generic self-reflection techniques such as what worked today? What challenges did you face? What didn't work? 

Differentiating instruction is a great way to meet students where they are in terms of learning goals. By having the end goal in mind and providing students with open-ended tasks, options and choices, and self-reflection opportunities, teachers can create a sustainable plan for meeting learners where they are. This helps to create an environment tailored to each student's needs and learning abilities, which will help them reach their full potential.