Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a bachelor's degree in English Education from the University of Delaware, and a master's in TESOL Literacy from Wilmington University.
Differentiated instruction is an approach to teaching that takes into account the varying learning styles and needs of all students. The objective is to provide all students with equitable access to the curriculum.
Science class is a subject area that many students struggle with due to complex concepts, technical vocabulary, and unfamiliar experiments and procedures.
Let's look at some examples of strategies that teachers can use to differentiate instruction in the science classroom.
Flexible grouping is a strategy that teachers can use to create temporary groups based on student needs. A flexible group might consist of partners, a few students, or even the entire class. Sometimes, students might choose partners, and other times, the teacher will assign them.
For example, let's say students break into small groups for a science lab. The teacher could assign each student in the group a specific role that will allow him or her to demonstrate learning based on individual strengths. Here are some possible student roles based on flexible grouping:
- A strong reader might be responsible for reading the directions of the assignment and reading the group's results aloud to the class.
- A student who has a preference for hands-on learning might be assigned with the task of testing the group's hypothesis by adding ingredients to a chemical solution.
- A skilled writer might be responsible for writing a summary of the experiment.
- Someone who excels in artistic endeavors might create a poster to illustrate the experiment.
- A student who enjoys public speaking might present the group's work to the class.
Offering students the opportunity to showcase their strengths and skills by giving them choices is another strategy for differentiated instruction.
One way to offer choices is to create interest groups. For example, if students are learning about animal habitats, you might allow students to choose a small group to work with based on what animal they want to learn more about.
Another way to offer choices is to allow students to choose from a list of approved assignments. For example, at the end of your habitat unit, students might choose to demonstrate learning by completing one of the following assessments:
- Write an essay comparing two different habitats.
- Create a diorama of a chosen habitat.
- Write a poem or short story from the perspective of an animal in an endangered habitat.
- Create a diagram of a chosen habitat and label the vocabulary. Demonstrate the interactions between the living and non-living things.
- Record a Public Service Announcement to warn the public about the effects of pollution on a chosen habitat.
Tiered learning involves teaching the same content to all students, but varying the depth and complexity of the content depending on individual student needs. One way to use tier learning is based on student ability level. For example, the teacher might organize students into three tiers: below grade level, at grade level, or above grade level.
For a lesson on the features of the planet Mars, students who are performing below grade level might watch a video about Mars and complete a checklist based on the information they hear about the planet's characteristics.
- Students who are performing at grade level might write a paragraph about the features of Mars after reading a book about the solar system.
- Students who are performing above grade level might participate in a structured debate about the possibility of life on Mars based on the planet's characteristics.
- All students are learning about the features of Mars, but the learning paths they take and the depth and complexity of the information is varied.
There are many ways to tier a lesson. For example, students could be tiered according to their language proficiency, learning style, interests, or reading level.
Differentiated instruction is an approach to teaching that provides various methods of presenting content and assessing students. In the science classroom, some strategies that teachers can use to differentiate instruction include:
- Using flexible grouping based on students' needs
- Offering students choices throughout the learning process
- Providing tiered learning by varying the complexity and depth of content for students
These differentiated strategies will help ensure that all learners have the chance to succeed in your science class.
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