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What Is Differentiated Instruction and Why Does It Matter in the Classroom?

Differentiated instruction is the process of customizing lessons to meet students’ individual needs. Since no two learners are the same, teachers must have strategies to adapt learning environments, content, products and processes to reach all students. This approach allows students flexibility and choice in how they learn allows teachers to personalize learning according to the requirements of their students. This teaching method utilizes clear learning goals and a way to meet those goals for each student.

An online Master of Science in Education (MSEd) in Curriculum and Instruction with Emphasis in Advanced Teaching Strategies from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) can broaden educational professionals’ expertise in the challenges of today’s diverse educational environments and give them direct experience in influencing and improving student outcomes.

Students in this program will explore teaching pedagogy in depth while earning credentials toward professional development credit or a potential salary increase with this degree. This program helps students gain expertise in strategic curriculum development and sociocultural foundations. Coursework involves differentiated instruction, including technology integration that meets the needs of all students.

The Four Areas for Differentiation

With differentiated instruction, teachers use various teaching methods, instead of simply lecturing the same way to the entire class, so students have multiple options to learn information. When educators understand how each student learns, they can adjust their teaching techniques and methods to meet the needs of every student. Teachers can differentiate instruction across four main areas: content, process, projects and learning environment.

To use differentiated instruction, educators need to identify the resources students need to learn. As they develop activities to help students process new information, teachers can devise projects for students to illustrate what they’ve learned. These steps foster a welcoming environment that encourages students to learn and work together.

The Benefits of Differentiated Instruction

Some of the acknowledged benefits of differentiated instruction in the classroom are the following:

  • it assists teachers in connecting with different learning styles
  • allows every student to keep up with learning objectives
  • boosts motivation to learn material students may not find interesting

By using various teaching methods to mesh with different learning styles, teachers give students a chance to learn the material through various methods: games, lectures, using computers, quiet reading time and more. This offers students choices about how they learn and how they can attain their learning goals. Since each student brings their own gifts and challenges to the classroom, differentiated instruction can play to their strengths to help them overcome obstacles.

Although each student can follow their own path of learning content and achieving the overall classroom goals, teachers must start by setting baselines for each student. Learning inventories and diagnostic testing help educators tailor content and identify tactics to support students in meeting their goals.

Some examples of differentiated learning in the classroom are when teachers give students options of different assignments, use a variety of student assessments and personalized learning methods, customize teaching strategies to suit the needs of all students, honor student experiences with cultural competence and provide different types of learning materials. The classroom environment needs to be supportive and welcoming for all students, including English language learners and students with disabilities.

The Power of an Advanced Degree

SIUE’s online program highlights the importance of differentiated instruction with relevant courses, such as the Differentiated Instruction and Curriculum Models course, which focuses on best practices of instruction tailored to all learners.

The program helps students “gain expertise in sociocultural foundations and strategic curriculum development, with a focus on differentiated instruction including technology integration to meet the needs of all students.” Graduates of SIUE’s program are equipped to work in a number of spaces (including museums, parks, libraries, professional training and more) to help learners of all backgrounds process information and learn.

Learn more about Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville’s online Master of Science in Education in Curriculum and Instruction with Emphasis in Advanced Teaching Strategies program.

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