ProTip Wednesday: 5 Differentiation Strategies to Increase Engagement

differentiation teaching strategies

We, as teachers, know better than most that all students are not made the same. From the eternal pencil clicker to the creative doodler, our students need us to meet them where they are, otherwise known as differentiation. But how do you differentiate for 30 students? 100 students? There is barely enough time for a full lesson — so here are 5 ways to pre-build strategies into your lesson plan without taking extra time.

1. Options, options, options

Giving students choice rather than just a single, narrow way allows students to figure out how they learn best. You can use things like choice boards or providing homework options where you’re providing many different choices in activity. It doesn’t have to be simple activities either— Mrs. E over at The Sweet Life of Third Grade creates her choice boards based on the multiple intelligence model. (via The Sweet life of Third Grade)

differentiation teaching strategies options

2. Investing in goal setting

At the beginning of the year, I asked students where did they want to be in 20 years, or basically, their goals. We worked through an activity that asked them to then identify key steps that they need to take in middle school, high school and beyond to achieve that goal. They started to map out how they were going to succeed and I was able to reference it when that student struggled. They’re already invested in their dreams, it’s just up to us to relate.

differentiation teaching strategies goals

3. Using interest surveys

As we mentioned in a previous ProTip, those beginning-of-the-year interest surveys are gold. I kept them all in a binder and pulled them out once in awhile when I tried to figure out what kinds of examples to use in my lessons. Differentiation is not just about reaching the students’ level, but also what makes them invested in listening.

Here’s a list of quick instructional strategies to use on a daily basis: Toolbox for Planning Rigorous Instruction

4. Differentiation folders

These can be easily be pre-made at the beginning of the year and integrated into guided or independent practice whenever the work calls for it. Katie from “I Want to be a Super Teacher,” breaks down the difficulty of a math worksheet and gives students the choice of how challenged they would like to be. (via I Want to be a Super Teacher)

differentiation teaching strategies organization

5. Pair up! (or not)

Allow students to choose to work with others or alone during work time. Pairing up may allow students to collaborate with peers and find the support they missed during the lesson; allowing students to work alone also gives processing time to thinkers who learn through that way. I find that when I utilized this strategy, students often knew if it was worth their time to pair up and whom to pair up with, thereby ensuring productive work time.

differentiation teaching strategies working together

The key takeaway from differentiation is to give students choices in their path to mastery. We our lessons meet students at where they are, that strategy will inevitably increase classroom engagement. Happy students, happy teacher!

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