Diverse Learners in the Classroom

Kids playing outside

Author: Nicole Gallagher, M.Ed.

“Education should turn out the pupil with something he knows well and something he can do well.”

Alfred North Whitehead

When teachers mention the term “diverse learners” we are referring to how all learners are different. Classrooms of the past only looked at the age and grade level of the students to decide what type and level of instruction they would receive. Kindergarteners were not expected to do the same types of the lessons as third graders. However, by the time you were in third grade you were expected to do the work of a typical third grader.

All of the students in my class do not always learn the same subject matter at the same time or at the same depth and complexity. They are expected to learn what is deep and complex enough for themselves as individuals. I cannot expect that a student that cannot even label the seven continents correctly would be able to list them according to size. It is imperative that I design lessons to meet my students where they are academically. In my classroom, students comprehend on several different grade levels even though my door says sixth grade. If I tried to teach at the sixth grade level all the time, some students would be completely lost and others would be bored out of their minds.

The three ways I differentiate my lessons are through the content, process and product. When deciding to differentiate the content, the first thing I consider is the reading level of the materials the students will use to gather information. I make sure that the materials are on independent to instructional levels depending on the type of lesson.  Throughout the school year I assess each student’s reading level so I can help them choose appropriate reading materials. If the resources are too difficult then students will become frustrated and will be unable to complete the assignment to their fullest potential. One tip that has been helpful in selecting great online resources is to use Google Advanced Search.  This search makes it possible to possible to narrow down sites and find texts on a basic, intermediate or advanced reading levels. Try it here: http://www.google.ca/advanced_search

When differentiating the process, I focus a lot on time. Sometimes it will be possible for my inclusion students to complete an assignment without modifying the process; however it might take them a really long time to complete it. In this case, I will change the process to meet the time constraints of the lesson. This is where depth and complexity comes in.The third way to differentiate a lesson is to vary the product. The products that I assign to my inclusion students are very different from my students are that one grade level or my gifted and talented students. The goal is for each student is to show mastery of the goal that is set for them individually.  One would think that the students would struggle to understand why several students have different products. This is not the case, in fact, the students enjoy being able to meet or exceed my expectations rather than struggle to meet them. 

Visit Stetson & Associates’ website for several free, helpful tools to use to differentiate instruction in your classroom.

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