Tips for Differentiating Instruction

by Math Solutions Professional Learning Team, September 14th, 2017

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Not all students learn the same way at the same pace, which means that teaching one level may fail to reach your whole class. Instead of letting some students fall behind or become bored, you can differentiate your instruction. Basically, this means providing various levels of challenge to ensure each student learns at the difficulty level that’s best for him or her. Of course, differentiating sounds like a lot of work (you can’t be everywhere at once), but a few strategies may help you effectively implement differentiation without becoming overwhelmed. Give these tips a try:

Stay organized

Having to provide different content for multiple groups of students can feel like balancing several plates. However, keeping everything organized will help you reduce stress and remember everything your students are doing in class. You can stay organized by creating a chart. It should include the following:

1. Readiness, interests and learning profiles: This section of your chart helps identify important characteristics of your students. Make sure to fill out each section for every individual. Readiness will include everything your students already know and the concepts they need to work on. Interests outline the things your students care about – knowing your students’ interests will help you create lessons that they can identify with. Finally, learning profiles note the ways in which students learn best.

2. Content, process and product: This section refers to the curriculum. Content is the information students learn, process is how they’ll learn it and product is the ways in which students will show you the knowledge they’ve gained.

Section one (readiness, interests and learning profiles) can go along the X axis of your chart while section two follows the Y. That way, you’ll end up with a three-by-three chart. Fill in the intersecting areas with information about your students. For instance, for readiness and content, you might name students who are ready for specific topics and those who need to catch up. The chart will also help you group students according to their preparedness.



Differentiating your instruction can help students at all learning levels.


Get to know your students

“Not all students learn the same way at the same pace.”

You can’t fill out your differentiation chart unless you know your students and their unique math learning needs. You can interview them, or have both them and their parents fill out questionnaires to better understand each student. The surveys can include things like “What do you like to do in your free time?” or “If you could go anywhere for a field trip, where would you go?” For parents, your questions may look more like “What do you think your child excels at?”

Incorporate the feedback into your chart and lesson plans.

Give students a choice

Giving students some autonomy may even motivate them. Be sure to come together after students work on the problem and have each group share their findings and ideas. Creating a group discussion after differentiating allows students to see how their peers think and offer a new perspective they may use later. In differentiating, having a unique group of students is a blessing, as it allows students to learn from each other.

While you may assign students into groups based on their abilities from time to time, also consider giving them some freedom. For instance, you may start a lesson as a whole class, then let students choose which method they’ll use to solve a problem, whether it’s working with blocks or string. That way, students form their own groups, picking their practice method based on what they think is more engaging and easier to understand.

For more help planning differentiated lessons and strategies for implementing the format, check out our book “How to Differentiate Your Math Instruction: Lessons, Ideas, and Videos with Common Core Support.” Geared toward students in K-5, this book will help you offer a lesson from which all students can learn.


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