So That All May Learn: Differentiating Instruction in the Primary Social Studies Classroom, pp. 6 of 7

One crucial thing to note is that assessment is key to our planning effective differentiated lessons. We need to pre-assess our students to know their learning needs. Pre-assessment is often carried out to find out about students’ prior knowledge, competencies, learning profiles, readiness levels and interests. Ongoing assessment is necessary for the teacher to understand how students are progressing, who is struggling, who is ‘cruising’ and who is being challenged to go beyond his/her current capacity. Ongoing assessment will also help the teacher make relevant changes to the learning plan and grouping decisions. At the end of instruction of a unit, the teacher should also conduct summative assessment to check if the learning goals have been achieved, or if there’s a need to modify curriculum or instruction.

Create a safe and conducive Learning Environment

This refers to both the visible and invisible classroom structures. There are three important elements – space, time and materials, to consider in differentiating the learning environment. Things such as space for flexible groupwork and for display of students’ work should be considered. Appropriate lighting, orderliness and sufficient resources are also necessary for creating that safe and conducive environment to encourage learning. Sufficient time for students to explore and make sense of new information or practice new skills is also an important factor in planning differentiated lessons. The guiding principle for the teacher is to consider how these three elements can be used to optimize student learning. A safe learning environment, one in which students are respected and respectful, not afraid to voice their opinions, raise questions or make mistakes, is vital to a successful differentiated lesson.

Differentiated instruction is a blend of whole class, group and individual instruction

We need to remember that differentiated instruction is not individualized instruction. Neither is it always groupwork. There will be times when whole class instruction is necessary, especially at the start of a new unit of lessons. It is advisable to begin with whole class instruction to establish common understandings of the learning goals of the unit. It will also be necessary for the class to get together again to share what they have learned. When planning differentiated tasks, we should consider offering students the choice of pursuing their learning in groups or individually. However, if a student is observed to want to work individually all the time, it may be good to encourage him/her to learn to work in groups. Sometimes it will be necessary to teach social skills to the class. This is where co-operative learning is a valuable approach to adopt in differentiated lessons. In differentiated instruction therefore, there is a blend of whole class, group and individual instruction.

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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