Differentiated Instruction for Digital Learners

For generations, teachers have taught to the average, or perhaps slightly below average, student. This seemed to be the best approach, given that to do anything else would mean leaving the majority of the class behind. Of course, no student is perfectly average, and most students were receiving instruction at a rate too fast or too slow for their unique needs. Differentiated instruction offers a better model: it involves providing instructional materials that are aimed at the specific needs of each student. If that sounds like an impossible goal given the realities of large classes and limited time, you may want to rethink because there are some edtech tools that make it possible to differentiate even the largest class.

For example, teachers can use hyperdocs to create virtual “playlists” of instructional materials. There are two ways to use hyperdocs to differentiate learning: teachers can either create unique playlists for each student, or one playlist can offer options for students based on their performance. So a hyperdoc could begin with a formative assessment. Then, depending on which problems students got right, which they got wrong, and what kinds of errors they are making, the hyperdoc can direct students to different learning activities that are targeted for their individual needs.

Another excellent resource is Newsela. It provides articles on current events as well as on other topics of interest. Its most impressive feature is that the articles can be scaled by reading level. This means that a teacher can assign the entire class to read an article about, say, climate change—but each student will receive an article that is appropriate for his or her reading ability. Then, the class can discuss the articles together. This is an excellent way to differentiate instruction while still creating opportunities for the class to work and think together.

Teachers can also find a variety of lessons, curricular units, videos, and worksheets from websites such as CK12.org, Khan Academy, and others. This makes it possible for teachers to provide additional instruction for students who need more practice and review. While the task of organizing different assignments for different students might seem daunting, using one portal, such as Google Classrooms, makes it possible for teachers to keep materials organized.

Obviously, a shift toward differentiated instruction will require a substantial investment of time and energy to re-think instructional approaches. But students benefit when they learn at precisely their own level. A variety of digital tools makes this a realistic prospect for today’s teachers.

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