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September 15, 2010 Differentiated Instruction By Brent Vasicek
Grades 3–5, 6–8

    Two words that are pounded into every rookie teacher’s head.Two words that are uttered at staff meetings across the globe. Two words that together pull up more than 324,000 results on Google. What are these two words? Differentiated Instruction.

    This blog contains two short video demonstrations of the ideas in action. Photo: Students kinesthetically learning science vocabulary.




    I can almost hear the ever popular phrase "Who has time?" echoing through the minds of teachers that feel they are already overworked and under-appreciated. Yes, addressing the needs of each unique student in a classroom can seem overwhelming. This is especially true when our roles are extended from that of teacher to counselor, to parent, to secretary, to referee, to banker, etc. But, like a tough math problem, when we break differentiated instruction down into two steps, it is more manageable.



    Step One is understanding the variety of ways differentiated instruction can be delivered. In my classroom there are four main ways I accomplish this:

    1. Teaching to a variety of student abilities
    2. Teaching to students’ preferred modality or multiple intelligence
    3. Allowing a choice in skills to demonstrate learning content
    4. Allowing a choice in content to demonstrate the learning of a skill

    Step Two is matching a differentiated instruction method with the lesson. Below are some examples of strategies I use that correspond to the list above.

    1.  Math “Video Game” Worksheets. This is great in a blended class environment, where an instructor is teaching two grade levels. I customize these worksheets to the topic we are covering in class. Each row of problems increases in difficulty.  A student must demonstrate the mastery of a level before moving onto the next.  This is a fast-paced, fun math period where mistakes mean repeating a level, and paying attention to detail means skipping problems to advance to the next level. Students pop up from their seats after completing a row to see if the game maker (the teacher) will say whether or not they've gained mastery and pass them on. They are encouraged to compete with themselves by getting further in the game each time they play. After thirty minutes I can tell exactly which students are mastering the concept and which students will need extra help. Formative assessment at its most fun! Download a math "video game" sample document.

    Below is a video demo of how to execute video game math.  If you cannot see the video below, I have also uploaded the two-minute video demo to YouTube.




    2. Science Vocabulary: When teaching science vocabulary, I use the three learning modalities — visual, auditory, and kinesthetic — to ensure every child knows the meaning of new words. The students visualize a representation of the vocabulary word and come up with a short definition that is said each time we do a motion (our own classroom sign language) for that word. For example, for the word "data," we say, “facts and information,” as we visualize numbers and physically type on imaginary keyboards.


    Below is a video of my class practicing the Word Wall.  If you are having viewing difficulties, there is a short one-minute demonstration of my class doing this on YouTube.




    3.  Spelling Pie: Each week my students must complete a variety of activities to practice their spelling words. The spelling pie allows a student to choose a few slices of pie (each representing a different activity) that best suits their strengths. For the technologically savvy child, there is a PowerPoint pie slice in which the spelling words are practiced by making a presentation. For the mathematically minded student, there is a "What’s Your Word Worth?" pie slice in which he or she calculates the dollar value of each spelling word. Download the spelling pie document.



    4.   Technology: One of my technology goals is to teach students the basic skills needed for presenting a quality slide show. The product is a PowerPoint presentation. The choice of what they want to research and present is theirs. Giving them this simple choice allows students to be more excited about learning and increases the value of their product.

    So, you see, differentiated instruction doesn’t have to be all that overwhelming. Do not feel as though you have to reinvent the wheel. After all, if you are in need of an idea, there are 324,000 different links to choose from in a Google search.

    That's a wrap!
    Director Vasicek


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