Friday, May 01, 2020

Differentiation strategies to support learners

This article originally appeared in the Discovery Education blog "Kathy Schrock's Katch of the Month" in May 2018 and is re-posted here with permission.

Differentiation of instruction for all students in your classroom is sometimes a daunting task. How do you ensure all students receive the curriculum content in the way they learn and understand best?
Cathy Weselby, in a March 2020 post on the Resilient Educator Web site, provides a well-stated overview of the important research, history, and methodologies for differentiating instruction in the classroom.
I love this practical overview.
Differentiating instruction may mean teaching the same material to all students using a variety of instructional strategies, or it may require the teacher to deliver lessons at varying levels of difficulty based on the ability of each student.
Teachers who practice differentiation in the classroom may:
    • Design lessons based on students’ learning styles.
    • Group students by shared interest, topic, or ability for assignments.
    • Assess students’ learning using formative assessment.
    • Manage the classroom to create a safe and supportive environment.
    • Continually assess and adjust lesson content to meet students’ needs.
Differentiation may not mean implementing just one of these five methods, but let’s go over some specific ways teachers can use differentiation strategies by using a digital media product such as Discovery Education Streaming Plus.

For students in middle and high school, teachers can administer a survey that asks about their preferred method(s) of learning to help when designing lessons. One useful survey I found was the NC State University Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire. Teachers could also create their own survey using a Google Form. The Georgia DOE offers a learning styles survey that might work for the upper elementary students here.
For the younger students, this post by Michelle Baumgartner on the blog provides some practical ways to determine a student’s learning style. She suggests looking at note-taking style, problem-solving methods, observing social behavior and personal tendencies, and determining what learning aids the student turns to often. Baumgartner includes an overview of the learning styles and practical advice for each of these categories. These same strategies would work for ELL learners, too. The Georgia DOE offers a survey that may be useful for the upper elementary grades.
For special education students, by consulting with their special education teacher and reviewing the student’s IEP, as well as observing the student, would help the educator develop strategies to support these students.

To differentiate within Discovery Education Streaming Plus, teachers have the ability to both pick a multitude of content types, as well as assign the lesson to individual students, groups of students, or the entire class. This allows the teacher to group students by shared interest, topic, or ability.

Discovery Education Streaming Plus also includes a ton of instructional strategies, divided up by type of strategy, and there are many that can be used to as formative assessments. Below, you can see the menu and then just a few of the summarizing strategies you can use for a formative assessment.

Graphic organizers are included which teachers can assign to students as a quick formative assessment, too!

As you differentiate instruction and create groupings for a safe and supportive classroom environment, it might be good idea to use the online tool, Floor Plan Creator, to create multiple classroom set-ups that students can easily view to move their desks, chairs, and beanbags around. If you create a few of these, students will not get bored with the layouts and you can ensure you are able to get around to the areas and can see all the students.

There are summative assessment tools available in Discovery Education Streaming Plus, also, and it is easy to grade their work and suggest alternatives images, videos, or audio that they might use in their project. There is an assessment builder built-in that allows teachers to create Technology-Enhanced Assessment (TEA) from an item library that offers a variety of interactive item types. By using these tools, it allows teachers to easily adjust assessments.
Board Builder is a tool, found in Discovery Education, that allows users to create digital bulletin boards with a variety of media, including items from Discovery Education Streaming Plus and self-­created resources. The tool can be used for topic delivery and engagement, for assessment, and to determine student understanding.

As I wrote about in my April 2020 Kathy’s Katch blog post, there are also tons of editable assets in Discovery Education Streaming Plus that can be used with other tools like PowerPoint or Keynote, Padlet, the Adobe Spark Suite, and many other content-creation tools. Give some of them a try, too!
How do you differentiate instruction in your classroom? Have you used DES to do so? Please share your tips and tricks on Twitter! #kathyskatch