4 Ways to Differentiate in the Classroom | TeacherSherpa Blog

4 Ways to Differentiate in the Classroom

child-830988_1920DWritten by Danielle, Educator & Cofounder 

How many times have you sat and asked yourself, What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I get this student to work? How can I make my lessons more engaging?  The truth is, you most likely aren’t doing anything wrong. It may simply be that you need to step back and reflect a little on your students and their needs.

Reflect on Student Learning Styles

Have you ever considered reflecting on how much you really know about each of your student’s learning and work styles?  With twenty-two students filling your classroom, this may not be as easy as one might think.

Off the top of your head, are you able to share specifics about which environments work best for every single one of the little people that fill your room? Have you ever thought of how the florescent lights impact different children?  Do you wonder how comfortable your students are in chairs? These are just a few questions to get you thinking.

Relating to Your Students.  Put yourself in your student’s shoes for a moment.  When you are at a training or a faculty meeting do you find yourself distracted?  What keeps your attention?  Does hearing 30 minutes of non-stop talking make you tune out?  Do you wish you had snacks, a brain break or movement every so often?  I imagine everyone reading this is thinking “yep” “uh-huh” “so true”, and I bet your students at one time or another might have thought these same things during class.

So now that you’ve started putting yourself in your student’s shoes, go ahead – keep going.

people-690810_1280Take a quick self-assessment of how you feel you learn best:

  • Do you have to have complete silence when reading so that you don’t read the same paragraph 5 times before remembering what you read?
  • Do you need time (alone) to process an idea and really think through things before adding a valuable contribution?
  • Do you need visuals to have a clear picture of something being described or explained to you?
  • Do you have to have some type of movement and brain break every couple of hours to stay productive?
  • Do you need to write things down in your own words or sketches in order to remember things better?

Chances are you probably answered ‘yes’ to at least one of these questions. So, if you have certain things that work to keep yourself engaged and focus, why would it be any different for your students?

 4 Ways to Differentiate in the Classroom

Whether it’s accommodating students who are on IEPs or finding the one strategy that works for your struggling student, here are some strategies that you might consider.

1.  Brain Breaks & Focused-Attention Activities 

These breaks and activities should be kept short and are often guided by the student’s body language. Are your students getting restless? Voice levels elevating? Brain breaks and focused-attention activities help to refresh and re-start our thinking.  By stepping away for a short period of time, one can discover a new way of seeing things or solving a problem. Some of our favorite go-to sites include GoNoodle, The Learning StationYoga Journeys.

2.  Teaching through Songs 

If your students are aural (auditory-musical) and prefer learning through sound and music, you should check out some of these sites. A few teacher favorites include: All the Lyrics (for lyrics to some of the favorite Schoolhouse Rock songs), Flocabulary ($, but there’s free trial you can check out) and Rhyme ‘N Learn.

3.  Audio Books to Assist & Engage 

Engage your struggling readers, ELLs or simply the reluctant reader by using audiobooks at a literacy center or during independent reading time.  Audiobooks are great tools to engage your students and encourage a love for reading.  They also expose readers to new vocabulary and can create opportunities for students to share the stories with one another. In addition to simply having students listen to and follow along with audiobooks, you might think about playing a section from the audiobook as a teaser to entice the reader to read the rest of the book on their own.  A favorite site, although there is a cost, is Tumblebooks.  You could also get creative and record your own voice for some grade level favorites!

4.  Teach Using Visuals 

A picture is worth a thousand words” and visual learners, as well as ESL students, would second that notion.  Why? Because visuals help these learners connect to a concept.  The concept becomes more easily understood by providing an association and having a clearer image of what is being stated. So, create anchors with your class, take photos and help your students place a visual to a description.

As you plan each week, take a little time to think about the learning styles of your students and how you will ensure you’ve created the best environment for them.

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