As educators we all recognise that differentiation in the classroom is vital as students are individuals who learn at different rates and in different ways. However, planning, programming and assessing for the wide variety of needs and interests of multi-age and multi-ability classes can be quite a challenge!
Here are some ideas that can help you cater to the learning styles, abilities, and interests of your students by providing flexible and alternative learning experiences that are engaging and motivating:
1. Once you have given whole class instruction, give small group lessons to reinforce the learning and to check for understanding. Allow students to opt in to extra group work and encourage your class to speak up if they don’t understand. Model risk taking and making mistakes for your classes to create a culture of respect, empathy and acceptance of difference.
2. Instead of creating different worksheets for different students, which can have social implications and a greater time commitment from the teacher, consider one worksheet with progressively more difficult tasks. The capable students will quickly move on to the more challenging tasks while the less able students can take their time to understand the basics.
3. Provide students with a choice of activities and assessment pieces e.g. written, spoken, video, PowerPoint presentations, story boards, mind maps etc.
4. Provide students with a variety of resource materials e.g. simpler texts with illustrations, more difficult and complex texts, online materials like videos that support students who learn in different ways.
5. Have additional interesting challenging tasks for students who finish early so you can assist the students who may need more time. Make sure the tasks are purposeful, engaging and not just busy work.
6. 80% of students are capable of being self-directed with their learning if they are taught how and given the opportunity. This gives teachers time to assist the 20% of students who need additional support or individual instruction. See David Langford Quality Learning Australia.
7. Use regular formative assessment to evaluate where students are in their learning and then adapt your teaching to their needs e.g. See 25 Quick Formative Assessments for a Differentiated Classroom at Scholastic.com.
8. Use cooperative learning groups or pairs and consider having small mixed ability groups for tasks. Give students defined roles within the groups and explicitly teach them how to fulfill each of their role descriptions. See Kagan Cooperative Learning strategies for more ideas on how to use these.
9. Find out the learning styles of your students and use the information for your planning and for students to gain greater understanding of how they learn e.g. Education Planner has questionnaires for students, Ralph Pirozzo matrices combine learning styles and Bloom’s taxonomy for student centred learning.
10. Create short videos of yourself teaching a concept and upload them so students can access the instruction at any times i.e. they could revisit your instructions in class time and at home.
11. Peer mentoring and cross age mentoring benefits the mentor and the mentee. A student who lacks confidence can make massive gains when they can share their expertise with a less able student and young people can often explain concepts to their peers in ways that are more easily understood.
12. Use games and simulations to engage students in the learning. Simple games such as Celebrity Heads can be adapted to learning e.g. the ‘Celebrities’ can be characters from a novel, historical figures, scientific researchers or answers to a mathematical equation.
13. Use cold calling rather than ‘hands up’ when you ask a question. Develop a culture where everyone is expected to think and participate. Use strategies such as picking a name out of a hat, or a paddle pop stick with each child’s name and give processing and thinking time. Encourage students to ‘have a go’ rather than needing to be 100% correct before giving an answer.
14. Use mini-white boards for every student so they can all write an answer to hold up to the teacher. It is a quick and effective way to assess each student’s understanding. See also Dylan William and Paul Black, Inside the Black Box.