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Differentiation Tips for Parents

By: Ann-Marie Foucault
What is differentiated instruction and how can it help your child? This article helps parents understand and support differentiation in the classroom.

Differentiation defined

"Differentiation can be defined as a way of teaching in which teachers proactively modify curriculum, teaching methods, resources, learning activities, and student products. The needs of individual students and/or small groups of students are addressed to maximize the learning opportunity for each student in the classroom."
Tomlinson, et al.
"Differentiation is changing the pace, level or kind of instruction you provide in response to individual learner needs, styles, or interest."
Heacox

Why differentiation?

When learning tasks are consistently too hard, students become anxious and frustrated. When tasks are consistently too easy, boredom results. Both boredom and anxiety inhibit a student's motivation to learn, and — eventually — harm achievement as well. Differentiated instruction helps teachers avoid student anxiety and boredom that can be evident in one-size-fits-all curriculum.

Differentiation is…

  • Having high expectations for all students
  • Adjustment of the core content
  • Assigning activities geared to different learning styles, interests, and levels of thinking
  • Providing students with choices about what and how they learn
  • Flexible because teachers move students in and out of groups based upon students' instructional needs
  • Acknowledgment of individual needs
  • Articulated, high level goals reflecting continuous progress
  • Assessment to determine student growth and new needs
  • Adjustment of curriculum by complexity, breadth, and rate
  • Educational experiences which extend, replace, or supplement standard curriculum

Differentiation is not…

  • Individual learning plans for each student
  • More problems, questions, or assignments
  • Get it on your own
  • Recreational reading
  • Independent reading without curriculum connections
  • Free time to draw or practice your talent
  • Cooperative learning groups where the gifted kid gets to be the leader
  • Activities that all students will be able to do
  • Interest centers unless linked to core content and at a complex level

The parent's role

  • Asking teachers to specify ways in which differentiated instruction will be provided
  • Understanding that teachers can not (and should not) differentiate all assignments and materials every day
  • Encouraging students to let teachers know when assignments are a good fit and when they are not
  • Encouraging students to compete against themselves rather than comparing themselves to peers
  • Volunteering in the classroom

Helpful websites

Foucault, A. (2008). Differentiation Tips for Parents. Retrieved from the St. Michael–Albertville Schools, Minnesota website http://communityed.stma.k12.mn.us/curriculum/Differentiation_Tips_for_Parents.php.

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