When teaching a diverse population of learners, it is important for the instructor to differentiate instruction. Not all learners grasp concepts and theories the same way. According to Fleming (2001), there are three types of learning styles which should be kept in mind when differentiating instruction:
- Visual learners learn by seeing and through visual aids.
- Auditory learners learn by communication involving speaking.
- Tactile learners learn best through hands-on activities pertaining to the topic or concept being taught.
New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development shares information on the principles of differentiated instruction. One of the benefits of differentiated instruction is that the instructor can assess students’ needs on an ongoing basis rather than looking at formal assessments (tests, quizzes, research papers, etc.). There are also four aspects of classroom learning that can be differentiated based on the students’ readiness and interests:
Differentiated instruction may seem difficult to some, but it can be accomplished in many simple ways. One way differentiated instruction can be accomplished is through placing the students in heterogeneous or homogeneous groups. Heterogeneous groups are mixed groups while homogeneous groups are not mixed. Individuals who are strong with a certain subject or concept can be paired with those who may need more guidance. This does not mean that the other individuals are not able to learn the information but they might learn better from working with their peers rather than with their teacher or instructor.
Learning centers are another form of differentiated instruction and can also be used with any age group. What makes this a good technique is that it allows students to work independently or in small groups (heterogeneous or homogeneous) and the students rotate to different centers after a certain amount of time, depending on the age group. Before beginning the activities, it is important for the teacher to explain each center to the entire class. Then students are sent to their first activity. It is important that the students are not in the same center or a long period of time because they can and will lose interest in the task. Learning centers allow for students to be actively engaged in the learning process. They can also learn hands-on or from small group discussion with their peers. Some examples of learning centers are:
- Problem solving
- Computers with an activity pertaining to the topics being discussed in class
- Role playing
- Topics or themes
Sexuality Education Example
In the sexuality education classroom learning centers can be used in a variety of ways. One type of center could be a computer with a simulation in which students make sexual decisions and are given a consequence at the end of their simulation based on the decisions they make. For example if a student chooses to have unprotected sex on the first date, their consequence might be unplanned pregnancy and/or a sexually transmitted infection. Another center could be a role play in which a small group of students are given a scenario and they act out the scenario in their group and decide what the plan of action could be for the protagonist(s) in the role play. I would try to steer away from using a worksheet at a station because it is not involving the students to interact with one another.
Differentiated instruction is also beneficial for learners in that it provides diversity not only among academic abilities but among various cultures as well. As educators it is important to understand that English Language Learners (ELLs) do not speak, read, write, and understand English. It is important that educators embrace and appreciate the differences among the students in their classroom.
Differentiated instruction is very important in our culture of technology and social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). The days of lecturing in front of a classroom and writing on a chalkboard are long gone. Moving forward, I encourage both teachers and facilitators to differentiate the content that they are aiming to teach in their classrooms, workshops, etc. In the sexuality education classroom, differentiated instruction can bring learners of different backgrounds and experiences together. With differentiated instruction, all students and participants have a voice and have the privilege to learn based on their own learning style.