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Classroom Management


Differentiating to Accommodate a Variety of Student Levels and Specific Needs

Each student does not bring the same background knowledge and basic skills to each lesson, and each student learns best in their own unique way; so, therefore, it is necessary that the teacher accommodate for these differences through careful planning and instruction.

Although differentiating is not easy, the results are worth the effort in that school is a better fit for more students; this in turn makes teaching more satisfying. Initially, make as few modifications as possible for an individual student. Then, if necessary, progress to modifications that maintain the original concept or intent of the lesson, but are necessary for the student’s successful participation in the lesson. If the student is still not meeting success, then an alternate activity is necessary.

The following ways to differentiate were collected and adapted from similar compilations done by Lori Tilley-Sparrow, Joan Cunningham and Doug Knight. For more information, consult Alberta Education’s Programming for Students with Special Needs, Book 6

  • One objective may not suit the entire class, but rather several related objectives reflecting varying expectations might better serve the multilevel nature of the class.
  • Choose different grade levels of objectives from the Alberta Education program of studies for the same lesson/similar concept.
  • Different objectives may be necessary in order for some students to have the opportunities to gain core skills.
  • Select appropriate readability levels (90 to 95 per cent accuracy is instructional level; 95 to 100 per cent accuracy for independent reading activities), using instructional materials in addition to regular texts.
  • Provide a variety of levels of resources (for example, charts, texts, online dictionaries and references) and prepare students in the use of these resources.
  • Provide study guides or audiotapes of written material, or highlight key points in texts.
  • Use or make available for student use a wide variety of media/technology (for example, calculators, computers, CDs, AI aids).
  • Use manipulatives, multiplication matrix, list of commonly misspelled words, “cheat” sheet, recordings, models, pictures, charts.
  • Use adapted devices, such as pencil grips, highlighters, electronic spell checker, ergonomic chairs, fitness balls and so forth.
  • Adapt page setups with line indicators (for example, dotted lines to line up math problems or to show margins), defined sections, different types of paper (graph, raised line, interlined, coloured), colour coding, more white space, turn lined paper sideways for completing math problems, large print, block out extraneous stimuli and so forth.
  • Change far point material to near point for copying or review.
  • Provide high-interest material.
  • Provide two sets of materials—one for home, one for school—and extra supplies and materials.
  • Position individual students in the room to accommodate their uniqueness, such as modality strengths, frequency of leaving and returning to classroom, seating preferences/needs (for example, away from distracting students or traffic routes, lights, or noise; on chair at circle time, and so on).
  • Develop a plan that includes space for a variety of instructional styles (for example, reading corner, centres, individual work/tutoring, small-group instruction, listening centre, and so on).
  • Provide time-out area, study carrels, room dividers or ear buds to muffle noise.
  • Arrange for desk/table adaptations (for example, laptop, flip-up top, tilt top, box for feet, wheelchair accessibility, lip on side of desk and so forth).
  • Vary the working surface (for example, floor or vertical surface such as interactive whiteboard).
  • Make organizational adaptations (for example, attach pencil to student with extension key ring, individual timetable on desk, personal drawer/shelf/carton/bin for desk materials and pencils, colour code class duo-tangs and so forth).
  • Display strategies on walls or on individual desks.
  • Teach to a variety of learning styles:
    - aural (auditory–musical), physical (kinesthetic–tactile), logical (mathematical), social (interpersonal), solitary (intrapersonal), visual (spatial) and verbal (linguistic)
    - multiple intelligences (linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, visual, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalist)
    - emotional intelligences
  • Use both oral and written/pictorial directions, numbering the steps in a task, act out instructions, teach key direction words, record instructions or ask students to repeat the steps.
  • Use flow charts/arrows on the board or overhead to show how ideas are related.
  • Vary activities and involve students actively in the presentation, either covertly (for example,  think ..., imagine ..., pretend ...) or overtly by having them doing something (for example, concept mapping, brainstorming).
  • Use different-coloured pens.
  • Give advanced organizers, chapter preview, a structured overview with students filling in the blanks while listening, preteach critical vocabulary, discussion questions before reading, essential fact list, verbal cues as to what is most important or provide a summary of the information.
  • Modify volume (loud/soft), tone of voice (high/low) or modify the pace (slower/faster/pauses).
  • Ask frequent questions with question level geared to the student’s ability and needs, allowing different response formats (for example, from verbal to physical; from saying to pointing), call student’s name before asking a question or increase wait time.
  • Provide more guided practice or different methods of student practice (that is, write, verbalize, construct, perform, solve), perhaps in game format.
  • Use a strategy approach and mnemonic devices (and help students to develop their own).
  • Repeat major points and provide frequent review.
  • Show an example of the expected end product.
  • Have students summarize at the end of the lesson.
  • Provide a range of appropriate tasks to allow choice (that is, simple to complex).
  • Match tasks to student readiness, abilities, aptitudes, interests, learning/intellectual style.
  • Provide flexibility in the time needed to complete a task.
  • Use task analysis to break task into manageable parts, assign only one task at a time, or shorten project assignment into daily tasks with ongoing monitoring/feedback.
  • Be aware of how pacing effects learning for individuals, providing additional time to preview materials or complete tasks.
  • Provide daily and weekly assignment sheets, number assignments to be completed, use homework agendas.
  • Provide alternatives to written assignments (for example, posters, collections, presentations, models) or omit assignments that require excessive data input.
  • Emphasize quality, not quantity, in work.
  • Group similar questions together and sequence work with more simple tasks first.
  • Use peer tutoring and cooperative learning, providing opportunities for special needs students to give as well as receive support.
  • Employ group learning strategies, such as think-pair-share, think-pair-square-share, response partners, work helper, on-task helper, and reciprocal teaching.
  • Organize student groupings according to instructional needs, role models and so forth, and change the configuration of the groupings (and names of the groups) frequently, based on reassessment of current skill levels.
  • Use a variety of different groupings—flexibility keeps students from feeling that they are “pegged” into a certain group.
  • Use teaching assistants effectively through careful planning, training and ongoing communication.
  • Recruit, train, communicate with volunteers.
  • Work with consultants and other teachers, wraparound services resource people and behaviour specialists to develop a team approach to program planning and instruction.
  • Individual support from the teacher (for example, encouragement, simpler directions or repeat them privately, hand signals or sign language, complete first question with student).
Management and Motivation
  • Match the difficulty level to student readiness so students experience success.
  • Celebrate achievement (no matter how minimal); reinforce initiation, attempts at tasks and positive choices.
  • Alert students prior to transitions by providing anticipation cues.
  • Build physical movement into instruction and allow breaks.
  • Use reinforcement strategies (for example, different reinforcers, tangible reinforcers, increase reinforcement frequency, delay reinforcement).
  • Use specifics rather than generalities when providing reinforcement (for example, “Excellent answer because ...”).
  • Establish rules and review frequently; post expectations, consequences and reinforcers.
  • Use monitoring systems, behavioural contracts or an individualized behaviour plan.
  • Modify rules that discriminate against an individual.
  • Establish and teach routines for handing work in, heading papers and so forth.
  • Use timers to show allocated time, digital clocks to show classroom routine times.
  • Teach self-monitoring, coping strategies, alternatives to aggression, and metacognitive strategies.
  • Incorporate currently popular themes/characters into instruction and assignments.
  • Use hand signals to cue behaviour (for example, attention, responding).
  • Establish a rationale for learning.
  • Teach prosocial skills and social communication skills, such as greetings, conversation starters and negotiations.
  • Preassess students and frequently reassess student progress.
  • Adapt test items for differing response modes, such as recorded student responses, or provide a scribe.
  • Enlarge or highlight key words on test items.
  • Organize assessment to go from easy to hard, or only give student(s) a portion of the quiz that matches the objectives for that particular student(s).
  • Mark assignments and projects based on what you asked that particular student to do; compare the student to themself and their past performance, rather than to others in the class.
  • Vary the method, capitalizing on the learning styles of the students (for example, oral report or class presentation, portfolio, oral exam, performance assessment or video of actual performance level, media demonstration).
  • Provide a reasonable extension in terms of time allotted for a written assessment or make it a take-home assignment.
  • Mark correct answers rather than incorrect.
  • Choose question types that are least confusing to student(s) (for example, matching, true/false or multiple choice rather than long written answers).
  • Teach response strategies and specific vocabulary in the formative and summative assignments.
  • Allow assessments to be taken in another environment without distractions.
  • Provide a recorded version or read the assessment assignment to the student(s).
  • Preview the assessment assignment with a student or reassess to ensure success.
  • Ensure that all adaptations provided in daily work are available during formative and summative assessments.