So That All May Learn: Differentiating Instruction in the Primary Social Studies Classroom, pp. 4 of 7

When planning differentiated instruction we are taking into consideration students’ readiness, learning profiles and interests and modifying one or more of three curricular elements in instruction – the content, process and product. Differentiating instruction involves providing students with different approaches to what they learn, how they learn it and how they may demonstrate their learning.

Content – this is the input or the “what” of teaching - the themes, concepts, knowledge, skills or values/attitudes that we want our students to learn by the end of our instruction. It must be remembered that differentiated instruction is not different children learning different things. There should be a common core of foundational knowledge, skills or understandings that all the students in the class should achieve. But the content can be modified to match students’ different interests, learning profiles or readiness. To do so, teachers need to pre-assess student interest, prior knowledge, understanding and skills or competencies. With that information, teachrs can then plan to allow student choice in exploring areas that they are more interested in (matching content to student interest), provide learners with appropriate resource material according to learning profile (matching content to learner profile) or provide basic or complex learning resources to suit the readiness levels of students (matching content to readiness).

For example, when exploring the concept of culture and how culture is influenced by the environment, the teacher can allow students to choose to investigate the cultural groups that they are interested in. Teachers can also consider using learning centres with varied resources of different modalities (audio, video, graphic, text or concrete objects) for students to learn more about their area of interest. The teacher may want to match the difficulty and complexity levels of the resources at the learning centres to the readiness levels of the students. At the end of the lesson students can then share with the rest of the class what they have found out in their special interest centres.

Process – this is the “how” of teaching. It is how students begin processing or making sense of the new information, concept or skill that has been introduced. This is an essential part of instruction because without it, students will not be able to develop understanding or competency. When modifying process, we can cater to the different learning profiles of student by allowing them to explore or make sense of the information in their preferred way of learning – for example, through watching a video, handling or playing with artefacts/objects or even giving them choice to work individually or in a group. The process can also be modified to cater to students of different readiness levels by varying the challenge, abstractness or complexity of assigned tasks.

Tiering is one strategy often used by teachers to differentiate process. In tiering, the teacher is creating multiple pathways for students to learn the key understandings but at varying degrees of complexity or abstractness. When planning tiered instruction, the teacher needs to be very clear about the desired learning outcome for the students. All students should be able to achieve that fundamental learning outcome but how they go about learning it may differ. One conventional way is to use Bloom’s taxonomy to adjust the challenge level of tasks. Using the earlier example of teaching about how culture is influenced by the environment, the teacher may consider the following tiered assignments:

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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