Differentiating in the Modern Classroom

Christina Biasiello is an expert teacher with a specialized focus on working with students with exceptionalities, primarily those with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Read on as Christina shares classroom concepts for creating a differentiated learning environment in order to reach students with a variety of needs.


Differentiating in the Modern Classroom

The concept of differentiated instruction in the learning environment is nothing new. However, differentiated teaching methods have increased in the past few years.

For centuries, teachers have known that their classrooms were broken up into thirds based on students’ needs and learning styles. Previously, every lesson a teacher taught would be too advanced for one-third, too remedial for another third, and only be on-level for the remaining third of the class. If your lesson plans did not reflect an academically diverse classroom, you were only teaching 33.3% of your students, leaving the remaining 66.7% either bored or overwhelmed.

In our new post-covid world, teachers are wishing for the “thirds rule” of the past. Today, you can have 18 students on 18 different levels. So how do you meet the needs of all of your learners when you are just one underpaid, overworked person who would still like to have a life outside of the classroom? Keep it simple. Remember that differentiated instruction can be as easy as having short individualized instruction with a struggling learner.

In this article, we’ll cover some differentiated instruction strategies to help manage your time in the classroom. We’ll help you target the needs of students in a differentiated classroom without breaking the bank or running yourself ragged.

1.   Centers All Day

Most likely, you teach the four core subjects: English (or ELA), Math, Science, and Social Studies. Rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach on the whole class, consider doing a 10-15 minute mini-lesson on the day’s concept and then breaking up the students into smaller groups. This way, you can work closer with struggling learners and address their individual needs. When breaking up your students into groups, consider learning styles, learning needs, student engagement, and any learning disabilities.

I know what you may be thinking: center rotations are a struggle because the groups of students who are supposed to work independently never do. Plus, if you work with K-1 kiddos, they can barely use the computer independently!

I get it. In order for a “centers” approach to work, you’ll need to spend the first two weeks of school guiding the groups that will work independently in the future. Rotate between each group and provide the individualized instruction each requires. You will find that you will accomplish more in 15 minutes of uninterrupted instruction and get more meaningful content across, than in a regular 45-60-minute block of instruction.

While you should consider student ability when creating each group, remember that it can be helpful for a struggling learner to be paired with a successful learning buddy. Students do not have to stay at each center for the same amount of time, each can move at their own pace. Create a To-Do Checklist digitally in Google Classroom and assign students tasks. Most schools have computer programs that they want you to use for a given period of time, so you can assign a time for these programs but leave the others open-ended.