Education isn’t one-size-fits-all

Differentiated instruction at Lynch reaches different types of learners

Just as everyone has a unique fingerprint, each student has an individual style of learning. Not all students in a classroom learn a subject in the same way or share the same level of ability. At Lynch Literacy Academy, teachers are using differentiated instruction to reach all types of learners.

Differentiated instruction is a method where educators factor in students’ individual learning styles and levels of readiness before developing a lesson plan. Doing this provides students with multiple options for taking in information, making sense of ideas and expressing what they learn.

“Differentiation is really about offering choices to your students to engage more students,” said Fran Boyer, literacy coach at Lynch. “And this can work in any subject area, whether its social studies, math, science or physical education, we’re asking ourselves what we can do to differentiate.”

Boyer said there are a variety of ways teachers can implement differentiated instruction. The main four include:

  • Content – what is being taught, including standards and curriculum;
  • Process – how teachers are teaching, including the activities the students engage in to learn the material;
  • Product – what students do to demonstrate their knowledge or understanding of the material; and
  • Learning environment – how a classroom looks and feels.

“The basic premise of differentiated instruction is that all of our students are different,” Boyer said. “So, how can one-size-fits-all work? It really can’t. The most important thing is getting to know your students and their interests, ability levels and readiness.”

It is also important for teachers to identify their students’ learning styles – or how they prefer to learn and process information. Students can be visual learners, meaning they like learning from things they can see and study visually; auditory learners, meaning they learn by hearing and listening; “read and write” learners, meaning they learn best through words; and/or kinesthetic learners, meaning they learn best from touching, feeling and moving around physically.

Once a teacher understands their students’ learning styles, instruction can be customized to engage students in the style that best suits them.

For peer-to-peer interaction, students can be grouped by learning style, ability or readiness, which Boyer refers to as “purposeful grouping.” For example, in Christine Vanderlinden’s social studies class, students examined documents related to the French and Indian War in groups of five, allowing them to collaborate and complete the work successfully. And visual and kinesthetic learners in James Christopher and Susan Gannon’s technology classes worked together to design truss bridges, which they are now constructing.

“Differentiated instruction is a year-long topic for us at Lynch,” Boyer said. “With 45-minute classes, we can’t just teach one thing one way and expect everyone to understand it – it doesn’t work. Differentiation has really been working well for us. Teachers are seeing positive results and students are definitely more engaged.”