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3 Amazing Ways to Differentiate Instruction in Middle School

Here we go. We are going to embark on a discussion on how to differentiate instruction in the middle school classroom. It doesn’t have to be a big scary discussion. Differentiating instruction in your classroom doesn’t have to be rocket science, and it can change over time. We’ve all heard that fair doesn’t necessarily mean equal. Not all of our students need the same assistance, tools, or lessons in class.

My favorite
Equal vs. Fair illustration
Bear with me!

I enjoy the illustration of three people looking over the fence of a baseball game. One is very tall, one is medium-height, and one is short. A person seeking an equal solution would give each one of them an apple box to stand on to see over the fence. The trouble is that the tall person didn’t need the box in the first place, they could see just fine before. The medium-height person can now see the baseball game where they couldn’t previously. However, the short person still can’t see the game. A fair solution would be not to assist the tall person at all, they can see. The medium-height person does fine with one box, so give them one. However, the short person needs two boxes. Now they can see the baseball game, as well. All three can now see the baseball game and they all needed something different in order to get to that point. That is differentiation and how it should work in our classrooms.

Where do I start to differentiate instruction in my classroom?

Assessments. I know it’s a nasty word with negative connotations, but it doesn’t have to be. Assessments, whether formal or informal can be extremely helpful in understanding where your students need help with their learning. It can be as simple as a short list of multiple choice questions to have students fill out about a topic at the beginning, in the middle, or near the end of instruction to see what they know.

Some of my favorite assessments don’t seem like assessments at all. Take a minute to look at my Breakout Resources. These fun activities on a large variety of topics encourage students to quickly figure out the material to answer some multiple choice and short answer questions. Each clue leads to another activity and it is an excellent way to assess students’ knowledge! 

Is there room to differentiate instruction in my classroom?

Yes, absolutely the answer to this question is yes. It doesn’t have to be that hard, either. Let’s go over a few ways that you can easily differentiate instruction in your classroom so that all of your students are getting what they need out of your lessons!

1. Centers

Whether you are needing to differentiate instruction in math, reading, writing, or another subject, centers are a great solution. In many classrooms, centers are already established for reading, but incorporate math and other subjects as centers, too! Take a few minutes at the end of your math class or take a break from your regular math instruction to have a review day with centers. Center work allows students to review material they need to work on.

2. Small Groups

Small groups can be used in conjunction with centers or on other tasks entirely. Small groups can be arranged in many different ways, too. For instance, small groups may be assigned by students who need to work on similar tasks to better understand. An example would be to have a group working on word problems and a group working on basic algebraic functions. Another way to organize small groups is to mix the groups with students who can mentor their classmates. Perhaps you have a student who excels at word problems whom you think can maybe help struggling learners better understand word problems. Sometimes another way of hearing instruction clicks and your students will all be excellent at solving word problems!

3. Digital Learning

Digital learning is one of my favorite ways to differentiate instruction. Through digital resources and lessons, you can easily see what is easier for some students and what they struggle with, as well. Many digital learning resources are independent activities, though, which makes them hard for group work. They are excellent, however, at keeping students quietly occupied when the need arises.

Some of my favorite digital learning resources also have an assessment option for teachers to see exactly what their students understand about a topic or need more work with. Escape Room Resources are the best for teachers and are generally a favorite amongst students. There are digital escape rooms where students click, drag, and interact with the escape room that looks like a room. Then there are escape rooms that require more reading and comprehension to solve the riddles and puzzles to break out of the escape room. Whatever your lessons are about, I bet you can find a related Escape Room Resource for your students to review and for you to assess their knowledge base. 

So, are you going to differentiate instruction in your classroom?

I hope the answer is yes. With all of these great ideas on ways to differentiate instruction in your classroom to assess student knowledge, review, and focus work on the areas of struggle, you can’t go wrong. Designing centers, small groups, and digital learning activities will help your students play to their strengths and work on the material where they aren’t as strong. It’s our job as teachers to make sure that our students understand the material we teach them, so planning to differentiate instruction allows us to individually teach our students in their individual learning style and help everyone learn better.

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Grab a Free Growth Mindset Escape Room for grades 4-8.

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