Do you WANT to differentiate, but are completely frozen in fear just thinking about all the chaos that COULD ensue in your classroom if you tried it? I am here to help with 9 tips that might get you moving in the right direction towards DI instead of away from it!
1. Prepare lessons with a co-worker. Sometimes just talking out possible lesson ideas with a friend helps to open up some new ideas. You can also work through what you perceive to be management concerns and solve them before they become an issue.
2. Prepare “lifetime copies.” As you are creating different levels of handouts, either laminate them, place inside a manila file folder and laminate, or have students use a blank transparency over the top of the paper so you don’t have to re-create the same work the following year.
3. Order up from menus! Students love choice in their work. Make it easy for them to buy into their learning by creating choice boards that are differentiated by interest, ability, or learning modality. Some of my favorite resources include the Differentiating Instruction with Menus series. You can also create your own though and reuse year after year.
4. Have materials well labeled. Before beginning DI, make sure students know where to find the materials they may need, including manipulatives, construction paper, or scissors. And make sure they know how to put it away neatly and back in the same spot. Practice, practice, practice that part and it will save you tons of grief.
5. Practice voice levels. Literally practice. Have students talk at different noise levels and model what is acceptable and what isn’t. Have a plan in place for alerting students when the noise level is getting too loud without actually interrupting those that are working. One idea is to have a number at the top of the board that signals what you feel the noise level is between 1 and 10. Change as necessary without saying a word. If it gets to a certain point, the room moves to silent for a bit as a reminder.
6. Carry a clipboard. Use THIS flip system for documenting which students you have worked with recently and which you need to conference with as they are completing individual or group projects. You can also document behavior and time on-task if necessary.
7. Timers. I love to have overhead timers on the board so students can help to keep better track of time left.
8. Crate up the groups. Grab some inexpensive file crates – one for each group – where you can store handouts, materials, resources like books, examples of completed projects, rubrics, or more that makes it easy for students to find their items, or for you to grab when working with small groups.
9. Class Wrap-Ups. Make sure that you periodically meet with the entire group to discuss progress, have students share their insights for their learning objectives, and just talk about overall behavior, time management, working well with others, and other helpful tips that all students can benefit from as a whole class.
The biggest challenge to overcome is the thought you will have structure in your classroom if students are working independently or in small groups. If they have a vested interest in the learning they are completing, you will find that time on-task is much higher and at a much deeper learning level. As with anything, start out small and differentiate the class into two groups to start with for one subject. As you feel more comfortable with the process and work out any management kinks, you can move to more frequent opportunities and varied groups in several subjects.
What are some of your favorite differentiated instruction tips to share? We would love to hear in a comment below!