Differentiated Instruction Strategies for Vocabulary

Instructor: Abigail Cook
Teaching students with different abilities, starting points, and backgrounds is a challenge. Differentiated instruction allows teachers to tailor instruction to meet all student needs, as described in this lesson focusing on teaching vocabulary.

Why Differentiate Instruction?

Mr. Kirk teaches third grade at Franklin Elementary. Like most teachers, his class made up of about 30 students with different interests, abilities, and learning styles. He has a few students with mild learning disabilities who require an additional level of support in some subject areas, as well as some higher-achieving students who need to be challenged.

Mr. Kirk has learned through experience that teaching does not lend itself to a one size fits all approach. Using one method of teaching every time only engages a portion of his class, leaving the rest confused and disengaged. For his upcoming unit on vocabulary, Mr. Kirk will use a strategy called 'differentiated instruction' to best meet the needs of all his students.

Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction means tailoring instruction in a way that meets all student needs. The way differentiation takes place varies. Whether it's the content, learning environment, student grouping, materials, or learning process, teachers make adjustments with specific students in mind. Many teachers can plan lessons most efficiently when they group their students by level of ability.

Mr. Kirk conducts ongoing assessments in each content area and knows what all of his students can and cannot do. The first and most effective way to differentiate his teaching is to group his students into three separate tiers, or groups. The middle group, tier two, includes all students performing on grade level. Tier one students are below grade level, and tier three students are high achievers.

Although Mr. Kirk only has a handful of students in groups one and three, he understands the importance of differentiating the grade-level instruction to benefit his higher- and lower-level students. While all students must complete the required curriculum, Mr. Kirk can differentiate instruction to ensure that he engages different groups in ways that work best for them.

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