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Cornell Student Articles on Topical Affairs

Education evolving to encompass diverse learners

No one learning style is the same, making it essential to tailor student instruction to the unique learning needs of that student. However, simply saying we need to tweak teaching to diverse learners is one thing — putting it into action is something entirely different. This is where differentiate instruction plays a vital role in education.

Differentiate instruction is probably something familiar, but not examined in-depth. But for a classroom of diverse learners, differentiate instruction is paramount to delivering your message in a variety of ways, so all students can learn effectively.

The following takes a deeper look at this teaching asset that will help connect learning material to diverse learners gathered in a single classroom.

Differentiate instruction is a type of differentiated learning that encompasses not only material, but the unique learning styles of students. This means that teachers develop lesson plans in order to more effectively deliver learning material. It essentially takes shifts the traditional one-size-fits all lesson plan and makes it student-centric.

Many people may think that differentiate instruction is for students with learning disabilities. It is, but this type of instruction benefits all students, even those who have higher learning abilities. For example, to keep a student with a high learning level engaged in the classroom activity, they need to be challenged to meet their needs as a gifted student.

Teachers using differentiated instruction need to use a wide range of strategies to reach all the kids in the class. It requires lesson plan development around students, grouping students by ability, implementing formative assessment, in-depth class management, more.

This could be more planning and require teachers to know their students in more detail, but it is certainly worth it.

1. Aim to Create a Diverse Learning Environment

The learning environment of students is a very important factor, especially when it comes to differentiate instruction for diverse learners. It is essentially a delicate balance between the physical environment and the psychological environment.

For example, creating a classroom that is flexible with a focus on areas for group learning covers the physical aspect. For the psychological part, teachers need to ensure a safe learning environment that highlights peer support.

In the digital era, we can implement a ton of great tools into our differentiated learning environment. Teachers can utilize technology and build differentiate instruction lesson plans based on student data and analytics. This can be a powerful way to ensure both physical and psychological environmental needs are met.

2. Use Material that Encourages Diverse Learners to Excel

The material teachers utilize to deliver the learning message is certainly an important factor. However, traditional learning does not account for the different content needed to reach diverse learners.

In differentiate instruction, we need to plan around the different abilities of students, as well as segmenting activities to reach all students on their learning levels.

This means that learning material needs to be developed and delivered on a broader spectrum. For example, students who have learning ability A should be grouped together and given learning material A. Then the students with ability B can be grouped and given lesson plan B, and so on.

Essentially children will not know that they are given different learning material. Teachers can simply phrase it as variety, rather than speaking to different abilities of peers in the classroom. Types of learning material activities for diverse learners includes:

  • Vocabulary word match (synonyms, antonyms, and definitions)
  • Fact vs. opinions in reading activities
  • Q&A group sessions after reading material
  • Discussing viewpoints and sharing it in groups

3. Differentiate Instruction Based on Student Learning Styles

This is another important element for differentiated instruction for diverse learners. You may have the core learning material for each student group, but if it is not geared to each students learning ability, the learning message may be lost.

For example, some students learn best listening, or some students are more kinesthetic learners, so prepare material appropriately. Some students may also need more one-to-one instruction rather than group instruction, and preparing your lesson for that is also vital.

One way you can implement differentiate instruction successfully while taking how a student learns is to use textbooks for those who learn best reading, audio books for those who learn best by listening, and use interactive tools for more kinesthetic students.

Understanding how to differentiate instruction for diverse learners can add value to your students. It is essential that we know not all students are at the same learning level, and that not all students learn in the same way. By implementing diverse lesson plans based on student needs, we ensure that no student falls behind or becomes disengaged in learning.

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