Differentiation is a process that teachers use to tailor and deliver instruction to students so that it meets their individual needs. When differentiating instruction, teachers acknowledge that students within a classroom learn at different paces and in different ways and maybe at very different levels when it comes to understanding skills and concepts. The goal of differentiation is to have all students be successful at acquiring skills, meeting standards, and developing deep mathematical concepts.
Teachers can use a variety of strategies to differentiate instruction for students who are below-level, above-level, and learning English within the same classroom. Teachers need to ensure that students’ instructional and conceptual needs are being met while exposing them to skills and content at grade-level. A variety of tools and resources can be helpful in providing choices to teachers and students to make sure the various needs of all learners are being met within a classroom, whether students are below-level, on-level, or above level. Examples for each are provided in the sections below.
When below-level students receive undifferentiated grade-level instruction, they can experience frustration. But receiving lower-level instruction at a slower pace may prevent students from accessing the grade-level skills they need to succeed on-level and develop across the grades, continually setting them back in their academic careers! To meet these students’ needs, teachers can differentiate instruction and modify expectations of learning outcomes during whole-class instruction while providing targeted instruction to address deficits during small group instruction or intervention. Small group time can be used for more intensive targeted instruction for those students who need additional support or have skill gaps. During guided and independent practice time, support below-level students with a variety of representations of the concept being taught. Visual representation is important as well as classroom discourse and partner work. Be sure to fill the learning gaps with reteaching pre-request skills first if needed. Modeling with manipulatives is an excellent tool for all students to grasp a new concept.
How can you determine below-level students’ skill needs and modify instruction accordingly? Strong assessments are tools that will help you figure out where below-level students need support. After assessing, revisit prior lessons (sometimes going back within the previous grade level) to determine an instructional starting point and adjust pacing depending on whether students show competence with the skills. In Sadlier Math, learning progression charts provide background knowledge of the development of the critical skills across the years to support teachers with differentiating instruction.
Download a tip sheet with five strategies to support students who are struggling in math.
To meet below-level students’ needs, teachers can differentiate instruction and modify expectations of learning outcomes during whole-class instruction while providing targeted instruction to address deficits during small group instruction or intervention.
Students who are above level require acceleration and enrichment activities in mathematics. These activities can be used during whole group direct instruction to differentiate the instruction and practice, or during small group lessons. Add challenging activities throughout instruction for students who need above-level supports or who are early finishers of classroom tasks and exercises. Small group time or guided and independent practice time can be used to support those students who have already mastered skills and to provide the opportunity to progress in their learning through acceleration. These students may also benefit from homework to practice more complex skills. Assessments will support you in moving above-level students ahead in the scope and sequence of your program considering learning progressions to provide instruction on more complex skills.
Students who are above level require acceleration and enrichment activities in mathematics... Add challenging activities throughout instruction for students who need above-level support or who are early finishers of classroom tasks and exercises.
English language learners may benefit from some of the interventions for below-level students, but they also need specific support. Students whose primary language is not English may need modifications or additional instructional support in breaking down skills, contexts, or text and may need extra help with vocabulary. When possible, provide additional auditory support for English learners and/or additional context for vocabulary words and word problems.
Assessing is a critical tool to help teachers differentiate for students, allowing them to gather information about students’ learning progress and set the direction for future learning. Diagnostic assessments and customizable online assessments will help with goal setting for very targeted instruction and identify each students’ strengths and weaknesses, allowing teachers to formulate specific instructional plans. Utilize a combination of formative and summative assessments to continually gauge progress and differentiate and rely on the measures included in your mathematics programs to help you!
Differentiating instruction is essential to support students in developing the skills they need to be successful mathematicians and problem solvers. Rely on assessment and these suggestions to differentiate instruction successfully for all the learners in your math classroom, whether below-level, above-level, or those learning English.