Using Multi-Level Instruction for a Classroom of Diverse Learners


As an administrator it is imperative that you support your teachers in the classroom. Understanding and supporting multi-level instruction is a great way of accomplishing this. Multi-level instruction is the process of teaching one primary objective or concept to the class while allowing for varying outcomes for an individual student or a small group of students. In other words, multi-level instruction allows teachers to deliver on-grade level, standards-based instruction to an entire class, but when appropriate, to respond to any student who may require instruction whether below or beyond the current learner objective. 

Multi-level instruction is a critical skill for educators. When teachers adjust the learner outcomes for those who require it, students don’t become bored from the lack of challenge or disengaged in a lesson that is too difficult or frustrating.  Multi-level instruction provides success for each student within rigorous standards and acknowledges diverse student learner characteristics.

Multi-level instruction was originally designed as a means of providing appropriately adjusted instruction for gifted students. Educators quickly found that multilevel instruction processes can and should be followed for every student for whom the stated, on-grade level curricular objectives may need to be adjusted.

So what does this look like in an actual classroom?

The teacher addresses one primary objective or concept to the class while allowing for varying outcomes for an individual student or small group of students. Thus, while the majority of students achieve the objective of the lesson, some may achieve either more challenging objectives or less challenging (but highly relevant) learner objectives at the same time.

 Let’s use an actual learner objective that an elementary teacher might address in the classroom. As you can see, the teacher begins with an on-grade level, standards-based objective and plans a rigorous and relevant lesson.

Multi-level form example

Then the teacher checks to see if each student in that classroom would be successful in instruction designed to be mastered. In this teacher’s classroom, just as in reality, there are one or more students for whom something different will be expected.

  1. Let’s make multi-level instruction as simple as possible. There are five broad steps in implementing multilevel instruction. This is the multi-level instruction planning format that provides a space for your decisions to be recorded for each of the five steps of the process. When you have completed these five steps, you will have designed a lesson or unit that promotes challenging yet accessible learning for the entire class. You will have also made specific decisions for any student in your class who may require additional support, ranging from a quick accommodation to personal assistance in completing the task.
  2. First, review the learner objective you will teach. Determine the exact learner outcome(s) expected for this specific curriculum objective.
  3. Next, create a lesson that is designed to teach this learner objective on the grade level intended, and is activity-based, if appropriate. Activity-based instruction engages the student in learning through discovery, application, cooperative groups, or any other strategy that promotes student engagement.
  4. After you have designed the draft lesson, review it to be certain that it meets the two criteria of on-grade level and activity-based.
  5. Review the learner characteristics of the students in your class. Are there any students who you think may have difficulty mastering the learner objective contained in your lesson without some adjustments or additional support? Who are they? List these students in the first column of the additional instructional decisions section of the form.
  6. Finally, complete the sequence of questions that will assist you in making decisions regarding the level of adaptation each student on this list will require in order to successfully participate in this lesson.

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