According to Kathryn Nieves in her article on Differentiated Instruction, a curriculum does not have to be a roadblock. There are plenty of ways that teachers can incorporate individual student needs and interests while still following the required skills and assignments. She offered these four strategies to infuse differentiation within curriculum constraints.
FOUR STRATEGIES FOR DIFFERENTIATING INSTRUCTION TO MEET THE NEEDS OF ALL STUDENTS, WITHIN THE CONSTRAINTS OF A CURRICULUM.
1. BREAK DOWN REQUIRED SKILLS
We can use a mind map. List the main goals of the curriculum in the center. Above these goals, we may branch out to a list of other skills that students need to have mastered in order to achieve the current curriculum goals.
For struggling students, the map serves as a point of guidance for the skills they need to master before working toward the curriculum goals – they can see what they need to work on.
For the students who can already reach a goal, activities that can extend their learning may include additional lessons that bring students to higher level skills, or open-ended activities or projects related to the topic.
2. FIND OUT WHERE THE STUDENTS ARE
Once the map is created, a pre-assessment for the entire class may now be administered. It is advised to avoid multiple-choice tests and instead try to offer engaging alternatives, such as an escape room, in which players work through a series of puzzles to receive keys that allow them to escape from a locked room.
These puzzles are based on the skills they’ll cover in an upcoming unit. We may now observe to note which students are struggling with different skills.
The interactivity and collaboration disguise the assessment feature to keep students engaged while still giving us information about their need for an upcoming unit. These assessments do not come from the curriculum but it can offer insight into how to pair the required lessons with differentiated lessons.
3. PLAN SMALL-GROUP LESSONS
We may create mini-lessons for different small groups. We may call it “readiness groups” to avoid labeling students by ability – there’s no low or high group, just different groups ready to tackle skills in different ways.
We may prepare topic of a mini-lesson and split it into three small-group lessons: one targeted toward students ready to meet that goal, another for students who need more support in that area, and another for students who are ready to expand on that skill.
For example, if we are working on a narrative unit and the skill of focus is collecting information, students ready for that skill work on an activity focused on that. A group that needs more support may work on an activity that helps them develop descriptive details to add to their story, including sketching elements of the story to create a visual to assist them in adding details as they compose a draft. Students who have already mastered collecting information to add details to a narrative can expand their skills by considering how their story could change if it was told from someone else’s perspective.
The key to small-group lessons is to make them flexible and fluid, so students are working with different peers on building and reinforcing the skills they need to master in the unit. The groups should rotate based on the readiness level of the individual students.
4. EMBED VOICE AND CHOICE
We may consider opportunities for student choice. They too can make a decision with regard to their learning. These choices can range from large decisions, like how students will demonstrate their learning, to smaller tasks, like selecting a partner for collaboration. Even deciding between handwriting an assignment or typing it is a version of a differentiated choice.
While we are required to give a periodical test which all students should complete, a second assessment which is choice-based may be conducted to show what they know in a way that makes them feel most confident.