So That All May Learn: Differentiating Instruction in the Primary Social Studies Classroom

Introduction

When we walk into a classroom in Singapore today we are more likely to see greater diversity of children than before. Singapore’s reputation of delivering a sound education as well as its development as a global hub has increasingly attracted many international students. With the increased diversity in the classroom, there is a greater imperative to adjust our instruction to meet the varied needs of our students. Why is this so?

All students are different. They differ in many ways, such as in their learning preferences, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, interests and readiness levels. Students do not all have the same knowledge base, competency level or interests. Neither do they learn the same way nor at the same pace. As teachers, it is important that we acknowledge these differences and take steps towards ensuring that our instruction meets the needs of our students. Good teaching is not just about delivering a good lesson, it is also about adjusting our lesson so that every student can be a successful learner. Our past practice of a single approach to teaching, or what is commonly called a “One size fits all” approach can no longer suffice. To help every one of our students achieve the learning goals, it is essential for us to differentiate our lessons so as to meet their learning needs.

What is Differentiated Instruction?

Differentiated instruction, according to its proponents, is a philosophy and not simply a set of tools (Gregory & Chapman, 2007). It is a belief system held by educators who acknowledge the diverse needs of learners and strive to help all their learners achieve the required academic standards. Gregory & Chapman (2007, p.2) identify the following as important beliefs of supporters of differentiation:

  • All students have areas of strength.
  • All students have areas that need to be strengthened.
  • Each student’s brain is as unique as a fingerprint.
  • It is never too late to learn.
  • When beginning a new topic, students bring their prior knowledge base and experience to the learning.
  • Emotions, feelings and attitudes affect learning.
  • All students can learn.
  • Students learn in different ways at different times.

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An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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