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Early Childhood Teachers— Creating the Perfect Team

Today is National Teacher Day in the US! Where would we be without teachers and the lasting contribution they make in our lives?

To mark this special day, we want to highlight the team aspect of teaching. 

There are many studies that suggest teachers think highly of collaborative teaching and consider it a valuable and effective use of their time.

As the teaching profession evolves, there are new roles created that focus on a single specialty or help manage a number of different activities.

All of such roles ultimately have an unified purpose of providing the maximum benefit to the student. 

The goal is always to raise student success and ensure student well being. 

Despite all the challenges commonly faced by teachers, they are committed to the teaching profession to help students.

It takes an enormous amount of effort and dedication to teach preschoolers, kindergarteners and students in the early elementary grades. That’s why Sprig Learning supports the teaching cause by designing holistic early learning programs for Pre-K to Grade 3. 

For this year’s National Teacher Day, let’s take time to understand each teaching role to truly appreciate them! 

 

The Most Essential Early Childhood Teacher Roles in Pre-K to Grade 3

Most Essential Childhood Teacher Roles

The foundational years are absolutely critical to a child’s long-term educational success. Listed below are the customary and indispensable roles in early childhood education. 

All early childhood teachers contribute tremendously to the assessing, teaching and evaluation of early learners. 

 

Pre-K Teacher

Preschool or Pre-K teachers both instruct and care for children typically aged two to four years old. They have to prepare their young students for kindergarten.

At this stage, it’s crucial that all early development milestones are reached. 

 

Kindergarten Teacher

Kindergarten is considered to be the start of formal education. It is the starting grade level for the majority of elementary schools in North America.

Kindergarten teachers have to plan and implement lessons for children generally aged five years old. They have to supervise their students, keep them motivated, and guide their development as they develop the foundational early learning skills.

For many school systems, assessments also start at this level. There are best practices to design assessments for early childhood education.

 

Grade 1, Grade 2 and Grade 3 Teachers

Early primary teachers (namely in Grades 1, 2 and 3) help children transition into the elementary grades. They ensure learning progress in all the core subjects: language, math, science and social studies. 

 

Teacher Aide/ Teacher Assistant

The teacher aide assists preschool teachers in their work. They perform a variety of tasks such as preparing classroom materials and completing administrative tasks. There are teacher aides in preschool, kindergarten and the early elementary grades.

 

Remediation Teacher/Intervention Specialist

Remediation teachers help children who are struggling with early reading and/or math. They work alongside the student’s regular teacher, and work one-on-one with those students who require the most help.

 

Reading Specialist/Literacy Specialist/ Elementary Math Specialist

Reading specialists teach kids that are struggling with reading and/or writing. They work with students in small groups, and like homeroom teachers, they also plan, teach and evaluate instruction.

Reading specialists have advanced training and experience in teaching reading. They assess literacy performance of readers in general, and struggling readers in particular.

 

Literacy Coach/Literary Coordinator

Literacy coaches work with educators and students to improve literacy scores. They help to develop lesson plans, conduct lesson demonstrations and evaluations, and analyze student literacy achievement data. The coach can also observe the teachers as they present lessons and make suggestions for improvement. 

Sometimes the role can also include leading professional development and collaborating with all teachers to improve literacy for an entire grade or the whole school. 

 

Director of Elementary Education

The Director of Elementary Education formulates and implements a vision for the district’s instructional programs from Pre-K to Grade 6. 

 

Don’t Forget The Home

Parents/Caregivers

Learning happens both in the school and at home. Parental involvement is critical for student success. Parents and other caregivers are able to support the learning journey of the child as they go to school everyday and come back home. 

 

The Need For Collaboration in Early Childhood Education

Need for Collaboration in Early Childhood Education

At a school level, the administrators always want to understand the role of each educator in creating a successful learning program. It’s important for them to understand the relationship between the members of the team.

In kindergarten classrooms that have an educator team consisting of more than one role, it’s seen that the team members have complementary skills that allow them to address individual student’s needs and ensure meaningful learning opportunities. 

In its full-day kindergarten programs, Ontario pairs teachers with early childhood educators, who are trained in child development, observation and play-based learning. 

There has been a lot of research done on the positive influence of teacher collaboration on student achievement. While teacher quality alone is a big factor in determining student performance, working collaboratively enhances teacher effectiveness and expertise.

In light of all the emerging evidence that advocates for teacher collaboration, there is a rise in early childhood educator teams where collaborative planning is a part of the agenda. 

By respecting the unique skill sets each teacher brings to the table, it’s possible to optimize high-quality early learning for every child. 

 

All for One. One for All.

Early Learning Dream Team

Early Learning Dream Team

Sprig Learning is a purpose-built company that provides early learners, educators and parents with access to the tools needed to build a foundation for lifelong learning.

We produce early learning programs that are culturally relevant, teacher developed, and curriculum aligned. 

Any teacher can quickly be set up with an account on Sprig Language or Sprig Math. They can begin managing their class in no time at all. 

They can access holistic assessments, personalized activities targeting learning areas, and surveys from others to get a better perspective of the student.

When every teacher onboards on the platform, the teaching experience transforms into something even more magical! 

The homeroom teacher, or main classroom teacher in preschool, kindergarten and the early primary grades, can keep track of all students from one platform. They can assign activities that work on all the different learning outcomes outlined in the curriculum. 

The reading specialist or elementary mathematics specialist can closely monitor performance in the different learning domains in language and math. They can group students accordingly to deliver differentiated instruction.

Those students who need even more support can be looked at by the remediation or intervention specialist. They can formulate a one-on-one learning strategy, and take help from classroom resources available in the program, or look at survey results from caregivers for more insight into the early learner’s educational environment. 

The director of elementary education, or any assessment director at the elementary level, can compare classroom performances to see what is working and identify teacher collaborative planning strategies.

Team work really does make the dream work, especially in early learning! To learn more about how Sprig Learning can facilitate team work to raise student achievement, simply reach out!

Again, let’s take this time to celebrate all the different teachers working every day for our early learners. 

To show our gratitude, we have slashed prices at the Sprig Store by 20% for all products. Simply use the promo code Sprigforteachers at the checkout cart. 

Using Play-based Technology to Teach Early Math Skills

Play-based learning has always been a major staple of early childhood education. 

In kindergarten and in the early primary grades, engaging students is as important as teaching students. This is especially true for mathematics, where negative experiences can dissuade a student from further pursuing the subject.

Encouraging and motivating a student during their early math experiences allows them to develop a keen interest in math. Such enjoyment and persistence in learning math pays off. Students explore creative ways to advance their learning instead of being discouraged and frustrated. 

Play-based learning drives engagement in the early years. 

Technology facilitates play. 

In this article, we explore technology’s potential in teaching early math skills. 

 

Technology’s Role in Teaching Early Math Skills

Technology Role Teaching Early Math

​​By engaging students early on using technology, educators have more power to teach the essential math skills and concepts. 

When you can capture a student’s attention, teacher’s are in a better position to deliver the content and concepts of the lesson.

Technology also enables teachers to monitor the progress of students and collect valuable insights.

It’s a way to differentiate instruction and ensure all students benefit from personalized instruction.

The Sprig Math program is an example of leveraging technology to teach early math skills. 

It provides every child a strong foundation in early numeracy by focussing on the underlying concepts (or processes) that are critical to success in mathematics.

The intuitive Sprig Math app is easily downloadable by teachers and parents alike. 

The program combines technology and classroom resources such as the Sprig Math Classroom Kit. It fits seamlessly into day-to-day lesson plans mapped to the local curriculum.

 

The Right Way to Teach Early Math Skills and Technology’s Fit

Teach Early Math Skills Technology Fit

High-quality, challenging and accessible mathematics education for 3 to 8 year olds is necessary to build the right foundation for future mathematics learning. 

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) lists 6 principles for school mathematics that are relevant across all grade levels, including early childhood. They are:

Equity: Equally high expectations and strong support for all students.

Curriculum: Coherent, well articulated, and focused on important mathematics.

Teaching: Understanding what students need to learn and then challenging and supporting them to learn it well. 

Learning: Learning mathematics by understanding and actively building new knowledge.

Assessment: Supporting the learning of important math concepts and providing useful information to both teachers and students. 

Technology: Influencing the mathematics that is taught and enhancing student’s learning.

 

Taking a look at Sprig Math, it is carefully designed to meet all the criteria for effective early math instruction. It uses holistic assessments to identify the strengths, interests and needs of every learner, thus ensuring educational equity for diverse learners. 

The Sprig Math program maps to local curriculum and supports the teaching of essential math skills with targeted learning activities. 

Students benefit from learning the underlying math processes, which helps them develop a deeper understanding of early math and build a strong foundation for success. This learning is made possible by the Sprig Math App, an example of technology that enables educators to more effectively enhance learning, differentiate instruction and manage a classroom of diverse learners. 

Thus we see that technology is fast becoming an inseparable part of teaching mathematics in early childhood education. 

It is a strong facilitator of the principles of teaching math, and it is a principle in itself. 

 

From Math Apps to Math Games

Math Apps to Math Games

We see that technology is an instrumental part of teaching early math. Examples include apps, assessments, etc. What about interactive technology? 

Studies have shown that using interactive technology promotes student collaboration and engagement in a play-based learning environment. Using game-based math learning apps lead to greater learning gains in math compared to students who do not.

Do Digital Math Games Work?

The short answer is yes! 

In a world that is rapidly becoming gamified, there is a role for digital games in education, especially when educators and parents are allowed to monitor its application.

A 4-week Stanford study on Grade 3 students found that those who played a digital math game for 10 minutes a day, 3 days a week, demonstrated a 20.5% improvement in scores, compared to those who received the same material and instruction, but did not play the game. 

 

The Next Frontier- The Sprig Math Game

Aliet is no ordinary bear! 

She is one of the beloved Sprig Learning characters that early learners love to interact with and learn from. 

Originally created for the Mi’kmaq community in Nova Scotia, she, like all Sprig Learning characters, has her own story, puppet and digital classroom resources that portray her.  

Each of the characters’ stories has also been casted as animated videos for a more engaging experience, complete with sounds and motions. 

Sprig Learning will soon take the next leap from animated storybooks to augmented reality (AR) and interactive learning games. 

You would not only see Aliet move, but experience her in three dimensions, and engage in learning activities in AR.

Furthermore, you will be able to have an interactive math experience with Aliet and friends, by doing engaging activities in a play-based setting and learning essential math concepts.

Pikto’l Bridge is one of the activities in the soon to be released Sprig Math Game. The new Sprig Math Game will include hundreds of math activities that are organized into the Big Ideas that help children develop the underlying math concepts.  The math activities will include levels and incentives for students that will ensure learning these math concepts is both fun and engaging!

For example, Pikto’l’s Bridge is a quantity sense activity, which helps young students build their reasoning, representing and problem solving skills.  

Students use wooden planks of different lengths, modeled after Cuisenaire rods, to complete the bridge. Students demonstrate their ability to represent and partition numbers up to 20 using the wooden planks. They show their understanding of the addition of two single-digit numbers pictorially, as well as model story problems with Pikto’l.

 

Beginning of an activity in the game.

Pikto'l's Bridge Beginning

Completion of the activity.

Pikto'l's Bridge Activity Completion

The activity has different levels and sublevels that get increasingly more difficult and have different incentives and rewards for students. 

In one sublevel, the student is asked to complete the different rows of the bridge using as many different combinations of planks as possible. 

On another, the student has to add the plank that fits perfectly into the different sized gaps.

The game is being developed in collaboration with the Faculty of Education at St. Francis Xavier University, Indigenous math educators from Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey, math researchers, numeracy specialists from the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, and our developers, designers and illustrators at Sprig Learning.  

 

Focusing on Math Essentials by All Means

Focusing on Math Essentials

Similarly to early literacy and reading, foundational math skills are strongly linked to success in the later grades, leading all the way up to graduation from high-school. 

Sprig Math is unique because it focuses on the  mathematics processes that span the K-12 curriculum and are critical to success. Combining that focus with technology and a game-based learning experience, Sprig Math is able to nurture a positive math mindset for young learners. 

During this play-based approach teachers continue to control the differentiated learning experiences, as they guide students in their exploration of math concepts. By giving enough freedom while at the same time offering instruction, the scope for productive play opens up, where students are better able to understand the essential math concepts. 

As presented in the article, the evidence for play-based learning in early math is overwhelming. At a time when we are all trying to close the achievement gaps, it’s an approach that better helps children to see, hear and feel mathematics. It helps students develop a positive attitude towards math early on, that reap massive benefits in the years to come.

Sprig Learning will be presenting its work at the Ontario Association for Mathematics Education golden jubilee event next month. 

Even if you are not registered for the event, you can sign up here to attend the virtual trade show. See a demo of Sprig Math. All attendees are entered into a draw to win a Sprig Math Classroom Kit!

Building Early Literacy Skills in Schools. Thoughtful Considerations.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission recently released the Right to Read report, which showed the education system is failing children who struggle to read. 

Early learners are not always assessed properly and the interventions are often too few and too late to make a difference. 

Before they know it, the window of optimum learning opportunity passes, and they do not learn the essential literacy skills that are needed to become strong and confident readers. 

Is it only in Ontario? No. Almost two-thirds of all 4th graders in the United States l did not meet the minimal reading standards according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. 

In certain states, only one out of every four students met the required standard of reading proficiency.  

Literacy is a science, and there is a plethora of things to consider when explaining variances in literacy outcomes. 

For schools, timeliness is especially important in making a difference in building early literacy skills. A stitch in time saves nine. 

In this article, Sprig Learning zeroes in on early literacy skills, and their impact on student outcomes. 

 

Why Is Early Literacy Important?

Importance of Early Literacy

By itself, literacy is paramount for success.

Learning how to read enables young students to acquire further knowledge. 

Statistics from countless studies show the effect of early learning on future academic and social success.

But it is even more important to develop early literacy! 

By habituating children to read, and educating them on the art of reading before they enter school, their learning potential is maximized. It’s why Sprig focuses on pre-K to Grade 3. 

In the early years of school, a systematic evidence-based learning path can be continued for them throughout their education. 

Such a structured literacy approach is known as the Science of Reading. Studies show that this approach can reduce the number of below-level readers by 25 percentage points. 

 

Structured Literacy vs Balanced Literacy

Simply put, structured literacy focuses on the skill of reading, whereas balanced literacy focuses on the activity of reading.

It does not necessarily have to be an either/or situation. 

But it is highly important that the skills of reading such as phonics, semantics and syntax are taught specifically and systematically, alongside taking part in reading activities. 

The Sprig Language program works all these learning areas and provides activities through which these early literacy skills can be strengthened. 

Structured literacy also has a diagnostic aspect, where instruction is assessment driven. 

It allows educators to identify learning differences in students so the right opportunities can be provided to them to learn a particular area. 

Sprig’s holistic approach to early learning always begins with such an assessment. 

In order to really ensure all students succeed, there is also the need to incorporate early literacy interventions into a system of structured literacy. 

 

What Is Early Literacy Intervention? 

What is Early Literacy Intervention

Early literacy intervention refers to the action that is taken to help early learners who are struggling in reading or writing. 

Groups of students or individual students who are not meeting grade-level expectations are identified as needing intervention.

Effective literacy interventions increase accountability for all students.

But if not done in a systematic way or if done only after Grade 3, these programs can be very costly and miss those students who need help. 

 

What Is the Need for Early Literacy Intervention?

Early literacy interventions enable early learners to make the right choices from the get go, when they are first introduced in the education setting. 

Young learners have diverse strengths, needs and weaknesses. 

For example, some children have phonological problems. If not corrected in time, it can lead to further oral language difficulties, which can compound into the inability to read at grade level. 

Other students may have early symptoms of dyslexia, which can be managed with specialized instruction.

 

What Are Early Literacy Skills?

What Are Early Literacy Skills

Early literacy skills refers to those foundational competencies required to learn how to read and write. 

By focusing on these skills early on, it’s possible to reduce the number of early literacy interventions needed. 

These skills include vocabulary, print motivation, print awareness, narrative skills, letter knowledge, phonological awareness, oral language development and learning to write.

 

Practices to Establish Early Literacy Skills

There are five main activities that prepare an early learner for reading. 

They are talking, singing, reading, writing and playing. 

The early literacy skills are a product of these practices.

Once an early literacy skill is identified, the appropriate literacy instruction strategy can be selected.

There are so many learning approaches that differentiate learning for students, based on their ability and current skill level. 

But the question should always be asked: what activities are in this approach, and what early literacy skills is each activity working on? 

 

Early Literacy Skills Classroom Best Practices

Early Literacy Skills Classroom Best Practices

When instruction is designed for a classroom, it’s best if all the early literacy skills are taught. 

This can be done through interactive activities such as storybook reading, rhyming games, singing songs, etc.

Sprig Language has hundreds of such learning activities that are neatly mapped to curriculum outcomes, and can be done as a whole class, in centers, or individually with each student.

It’s important to utilize a research-backed tool, system or framework that contains activities that teach all the different literacy skills. It helps educators adopt a structured literacy approach. 

The University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Literacy Network conducted meta-research to find evidence supporting early literacy best practices that results in improved student achievement.

4 classroom characteristics are explored that are ideal for the successful development of literacy skills.

 

Student-centered: Focus on engagement with the learning material and collaboration between students. 

Knowledge-centered: Focus on understanding the importance of reading and making connections between what is learned and how it applies to reading. 

This includes code-based instruction, which helps children understand the relationship between spoken language and print. 

Assessment-centered: Focus on regularly assessing students via formative assessments that guide learning.

Reflection-centered: Focused on understanding what is being read. Encourages students to learn different content areas using their acquired literacy. 

 

Stages of Early Literacy Development

The five stages of early literacy development are: emergent literacy, alphabetic fluency, words and patterns, intimidating reading and advanced reading. 

By placing more importance in emergent literacy and the earlier stages, it’s possible to create a safety net for students who are at risk of not reading proficiently. 

It is possible to improve literacy in schools in the earlier stages by having a classroom that: 

  1. assesses every student to tailor an individualized early literacy experience for them.
  2. promotes the joy of learning through activities (balanced literacy). 
  3. teaches early literacy skills systematically (structured literacy).
  4. empowers early learners to practice every skill learned.

 

What about English Language Learners?

Sprig has a Revitalization program, which promotes Indigenous and other local languages. 

Research shows that English-language development can be accelerated by making a connection between a student’s first language and English. Proficiency gained in the first language can be used to learn a second language. 

By supporting a diverse set of home languages, students are provided with a more culturally responsive educational experience. This allows them to absorb concepts more quickly. 

 

Prioritizing Early Literacy. Not a Magical Solution, but a Change in Focus.

Prioritizing Early Literacy

At Sprig Learning, we aim to provide every child a fair shot at success. We know the importance of literacy too well, especially in the early years. 

These considerations provide a preliminary overview into the reasons and benefits for adopting an approach that specifically caters to early literacy skills. By understanding how reading skills unfold for a variety of students, a school can adopt the right approach for their classroom and educators. 

Assessments, early interventions and evidence-based activities targeting specific skills can be seamlessly integrated into the learning process.

Educators have a lot on their hands, and any new approach should support their instructional practices and make their lives easier. 

To stay updated on the science of literacy, please subscribe to our newsletter, Root to Fruit, written for those who value early childhood education. 

Have questions about using intuitive tools that make a difference in building early literacy skills? Contact us. 

The Unrivaled Miniguide to Introducing Differentiated Instruction in Early Learning

Are you thinking of introducing or revamping differentiated learning in your school? If your current implementation is patchy or uneven, you might be thinking of consolidating different practices into one cohesive strategy. 

Or perhaps, you want to know how differentiated instruction can be a tool to achieve a certain objective, such as improving education quality and accountability for every student.

The reasons for wanting to better understand differentiated instruction are many. This is especially true as the approach has gained massive acceptance as a means to close the achievement gap for students, especially in their early years. 

With the availability of more early learning funds in recent years to advance the cause of education equity, differentiated instruction is a well-founded approach that deserves attention. 

In early education, differentiated instruction provides the young learner an opportunity to develop and grow according to their own interests, abilities and strengths. Sprig Learning was founded with the aim of providing every child a fair shot at success. It recognizes differentiated instruction as one of the ways to achieve this. 

Some schools and school districts have a page on their website that talks generally about differentiated instruction. They may even have a page of differentiation resources for teachers to use. It often contains third party lesson plan templates and other resources.The extent to which school teachers rely on these pages is unclear. Afterall, they are generalized and not indicative of the particular differentiated instruction strategy or policy of that school.

Especially in preK-3 education, it’s a different type of challenge altogether.

In such preschool and early primary settings, educators will often rely on the experience of fellow educators for guidance on how to apply differentiated instruction. For example, Alison, a grade K-2 literacy specialist and teacher, shares tips on how to differentiate reading instruction in her classrooms. There are many similar educator-created blogs on the web.

We wanted to look at studies, not from a teacher’s point of view, or a school leader’s point of view, but from a research perspective to understand the reality of introducing and managing differentiated instruction in school systems.

This article is an outcome of that intention. In the future, we plan to write a larger guide that covers the A to Z of introducing differentiated instruction in early learning. It will build upon many of the themes introduced in this content. 

For now, this article will hopefully act as a miniguide for school district administrators and interested educators alike, and anyone else who have thought about the implications of starting or improving differentiated instruction at their respective schools.

 

The Challenges of Differentiated Instruction

There are many benefits of differentiated instruction, and there are strategies that exist to realize those benefits.

But if there are no objectives to begin with, the school will randomly benefit from the advantages of differentiation. From an experimental perspective, it will be unclear what impact differentiated instruction had on solving a particular challenge or achieving a particular goal.

Here are three major challenges in managing differentiated instruction. Addressing each one is a worthy goal.

 

Time

“The era of one-academic level per classroom model is longer the norm in most inner city schools in districts across the country”, writes Kathryn Kreitzer, educator and researcher, on the application of theory and practice of differentiation for all learners.

There is a push for more inclusive classrooms with students of mixed abilities instructed by the same teacher, where they learn alongside their peers. 

This presents a challenge for teachers where lessons are customized to reflect the  different learning needs of every student.

In Kreitzer’s experience, the differentiating instruction for elementary school students far exceeds the time provided by schools for preparation. It is a task that takes additional time on top of grading, data collection and other planning and administrative tasks required  by teachers outside of school hours. 

Indeed, it is the same experience of many educators in North America who want to pursue differentiated instruction but lament the lack of time to do so.

Brainstorm Question: How can we lessen the burden on educators when it comes to planning, executing and evaluating differentiated instruction?

 

Resources

It’s a big challenge to apply differentiation strategies that teach content at different academic levels, while still meeting mandated grade-level content and standards. 

Teachers need the right resources in order to meet different needs of students, but such resources are not always readily available.

The curriculum and lessons change with every grade for a reason. But accepting the axiom of differentiated learning is important, which says that students will have their own ways of absorbing information. Especially in early learning, it is extremely important to observe the child and collect enough information before the differentiation process is started.

The curricular content, process of teaching, learning environment and assessments (the 4 main components of differentiated instruction) can all be creatively altered, where they meet the grade-level requirements but still provide a custom learning experience for different student groups.

But creatively altering something is open to variance, where every educator will develop their own style of differentiating. If one is committed to adopting differentiated instruction as a strategy, these four pillars of differentiated instruction require proper resources which will guide the strategy.

Brainstorm Question: How can we support educators with resources for each component of differentiation?

For example: 

Content — Leveled Readers. 

Process — Different Activities. 

Assessments — Use of Formative Assessments (we recommend both formal and informal formative assessments).

Environment — Indoor vs outdoor classrooms/ school learning vs home learning.

 

Technology

If there is limited time and resources to implement a solution, technology seems like a quick fix. 

It is digital, so it can encompass a lot of material in one place, reducing the burden of managing separate resources.

It also has machine-like performance, and can automate things with less likelihood of error and at a faster rate than educators would be able to achieve on their own. 

But adding technology to the mix is always a challenge. Especially in education.

When we refer to the use of technology in differentiated instruction, we are not referring to the medium of learning, which can be either online, offline or blended, as it was the case for many schools during the pandemic. 

But when it’s safe to do so, most educators prefer teaching in person, and more screen time during the developmental years of children is not endorsed. So by use of technology, we do not refer to it as a teaching mode, but as a tool which helps educators instruct differently in schools, with in-person classes. 

Kreitzer’s research finds that tablets such as iPads are rolled out to teachers as an instruction tool, but they come with few subscriptions to academically rigorous materials. 

Instead, teachers independently purchase these materials in the hope that they can help manage differentiation. There is also a lack of clarity as to how educators should supplement a curriculum with online resources. Afterall, the differentiated instruction has to be related to the existing curriculum. 

So if such digital materials are made available, it’s best if they are introduced centrally, where their application matches the curriculum and has different levels that are suitable for differentiated instruction. 

One of the most common themes in differentiated classrooms is the time and money educators spend out of pocket to finance the materials needed to teach students, which refers back to challenges 1 and 2. Technology can be introduced to help on both these fronts, but if educators have to spend yet again, it’s like going back to square one. 

Schools and school districts are still responsible for purchasing the best and most effective resources and subscriptions for differentiation. The hardware has to be complemented with software. 

Brainstorm Question: This is a two-part question. Does your existing curriculum have digital content that can be readily accessed by educators? If yes, is this content differentiated similarly to how hard copies of leveled readers would be differentiated?

 

The Solutions

Pondering on each of the three main operational challenges to differentiated instruction will act as a needs assessment for your school. 

Using each challenge as a starting point, it’s possible to find ways to better share the workload with educators. Afterall, it is likely that they already differentiate instruction in some shape of form, with almost 98% of educators saying they differentiate weekly.

Solutions will be case specific and will analyze if there is a suitable force multiplier like technology that can complement your curriculum while differentiating it according to the 4 pillars of differentiation. Namely: content, process, assessments and environment. 

But researchers agree that there are usually two conclusions that are drawn from such a fact-finding exercise. 

The need for more 1) professional development and 2) collaborative planning.

There will be nuances of course, in how they apply to your situation and organization. But fastforwarding to the endgame, it’s advisable that both of these solutions are considered.

 

Professional Development

In the past, education administrators often divided students based on their learning needs and disabilities into relatively homogeneous classrooms. Special education teachers then differentiated curriculum based on the student’s overall instructional level.

Differentiated instruction is not only for those kids who require such special education needs, but for all students. Indeed, Sprig Learning is an advocate for holistic learning, where special effort is made to ensure all students have the opportunity to succeed through understanding their unique strengths, needs and challenges. 

It would be unfair to place a student in a self-contained classroom where they do not have interaction with the rest of their peers. Tomlinson, Brighton and Hertberg write about the significant academic diversity in inclusive or general education classrooms. They describe the need for professional development (PD) in all schools to establish norms for differentiated instruction.

Researcher and former district administrator, Teresa Wallace, writes on the lack of necessary training to learn how to be better practitioners of differentiation. She refers to the National Institute of School Leadership, which lists the best practices for effective professional development. The Institute recommends the inclusion of educators when it comes to the  planning process and the selection of resources. It promotes professional development that involves continuous feedback from peers and administrators.

There is PD, and then there is PD that is focused on differentiated instruction. Cindy Strickland, author of Professional Development for Differentiating Instruction, lists the following complaints from educators for resenting staff development days.

  • “Drive-by” workshops
  • One-size-fits all presentations
  • Focus on rotating fads
  • Lack of follow-up

Brainstorm Question: When strategizing and organizing PD, is it possible to design sessions that have long-term orientation, allow for the input of individual teachers, and focus on an achievable goal?

 

Collaborative Planning

Besides professional development, schools and districts need to provide time to educators for collaborative planning. 

Collaborative planning happens when the general education teacher meets a student’s case managers, service providers, and/or co-teachers to best determine the adaptation and modification of curriculum and standards for differentiated instruction.

Most students will not need a case manager or service provider for example, which are terms used in individualized education programs in the US for special needs students. Canada also has such individualized education plans for both students with gifted abilities and those who require special assistance. 

But all students come from a community. This includes their families, caregivers and other important people who make a difference in their everyday lives. These community members also deserve a seat at the collaborative planning roundtable. By considering the perspectives of everyone, the instruction for a particular student or group of students can be truly differentiated. 

When collaboratively planning for a student, it’s important to be student centric, where the student’s support system works around them to provide an optimum learning experience. The delivery of such a learning experience can be both inside and outside the classrooms. 

Regardless of the location, a student’s goals (as outlined in an initial assessment) have to be supported by those who are involved in the collaborative planning process.  

Thus, the initial assessment acts as both a differentiator and goal-setter. But it is different from a standardized assessment, in that it is part of an ongoing assessment process where such initial assessments are followed by formative assessments. 

VanTassel-Baska & Stambaugh in their research have noticed that students arrive into mixed ability classrooms at not only very different academic levels, but with different interests and experiences as well. So there is ample reason to gain a more holistic understanding of a student, which can only come about by engaging all involved in collaborative planning. Sprig facilitates such a process with holistic assessments which involves every person in the child’s support system.

It is suggested by researchers that educators share the load of differentiation with their co-teachers by creating and sharing academic materials and resources. Significant change can only occur when administrators create a school that:

  1. Has high expectations for teachers to differentiate and show improvements with data.
  2. Institutionalizes collaborative planning time for both teachers and co-teachers.
  3. Upholds the educational philosophy that all students are capable of learning when the content and process are appropriate for the student’s instructional level.

Brainstorm Question: What roles are involved in collaborative planning for a young student and what is the extent of collaboration between such roles?

For example: 

Do they meet a certain number of times? 

Are they aligned on the same outcomes of differentiated instruction?

 

The Three Focus Areas of Differentiated Instruction

It’s good to have an awareness of the main stumbling blocks that prevent a school or school system from setting up differentiated instruction. By understanding the complexity and severity of existing problems, solutions arise which tend to converge around professional development and collaborative planning. 

Let’s now look at a scoping review that was done on the last 20 years of research on differentiated instructional strategies at schools. Elementary schools made up the majority of the sample.

It gives us an indication of what educators understand differentiation to be, how it’s possible for administrators and other decision makers to influence educators and what can be gained from differentiation.

 

Teacher Practices

If we want to improve something, we need to understand what is being done currently.

Differentiated instruction is only gaining more prominence recently. In Canada for example, only an average of 7.2% of the course credits in bachelor of education programs are dedicated to differentiated teaching practices for pre-service teachers.

If left up to the teachers to define, there isn’t a clear consensus as to what the definition of differentiation actually is. In a lot of the cases, part of the study included allowing implementers of differentiation to define the task they were carrying out. 

The most dominant interpretation of differentiation was equating it to streaming and grouping by abilities. Streaming is the act of grouping students into classes for most of their lessons. Obviously, this is not differentiation, as we are referring to a more heterogeneous classroom throughout this article. 

But it’s an important reminder that we cannot merely group students into separate classrooms for differentiated instruction, and thus must operate out of that understanding. 

For the studies that first established the premise that differentiation was the act of customizing content, process, product and learning environments for inclusive classrooms, it was found that most teachers differentiated only in one domain — either content or process.  

Only 2 of the 12 studies differentiated on content, process and product (assessments). Product differentiation was found to be less common than content or process differentiation. 

For product differentiation, educators typically provided tiered assignments, adapted the number of tasks, and provided more time for certain students to work on those tasks. Using pre-assessments or ongoing formative assessments were less common. 

Learning environment, despite being one of the four components of differentiated instruction, had its own category of studies. It was seen that teachers allowed students to work on their own or introduced group work. 

Brainstorm Question: How can we better bring product differentiation (assessments) and learning environment into the manifold of differentiated instruction?

 

Influences on Teacher’s Practices

Educators are the engine of differentiated instruction, collaborating with them is essential for the success of students. 

School context was found to be a significant influence on practicing differentiation. The organizational environment of the school could either promote or discourage the use of differentiated instruction. 

Teacher’s frequency of using differentiation was heavily influenced by the level of diversity  among students and whether the school climate encouraged a shared commitment among staff to offer flexibility and choice in teaching practices, learning activities and assessment. 

An active team culture amongst staff was associated with more sophisticated differentiated teaching practices. 

It was found that when educators learned about the process of differentiated instruction together over a period of time, their understanding and implementation of the practice became richer. But this required whole-school reform, a top down approach that included proactive planning for differentiation of all learners. Flexible grouping and ongoing monitoring was commonly used to guide such planning.

The school principal’s vision and actions had a strong sway on teacher’s use of differentiation as well. Schools with leaders communicating a clear commitment for differentiation lead to the development of a strong sense of collective responsibility.

Teacher’s practices were supported by school leaders who purchased resources and provided ample opportunities for teachers to collaborate on sharing resources and engage with other expert teachers. 

Professional Learning Communities and initial teacher education led to greater implementation of differentiated teaching practices as well as teacher’s self-efficacy in using such practices, and increasing their ambition and persistence. 

School leaders who attended professional learning sessions, encouraged teacher autonomy and demonstrated genuine commitment to long-term change were more likely to achieve differentiation success at their schools. 

Technology was viewed as a differentiation enabler. Application of technology was limited to formative assessments, and differentiation of process and product by learning profile and student interest. 

There is a lot here to digest. But it’s interesting to note how often collaborative planning and professional development come up, solutions we have covered in the last section. Beside these two, the following stand out as drivers of effective differentiated instruction among educators:

  • Team culture
  • Teaching autonomy
  • Diversity of students
  • Proactive planning
  • Organizational endorsement of differentiated instruction
  • Appropriate purchase of resources


Brainstorm Question: How is it possible to balance offering autonomy to educators while still mandating a certain guideline for differentiated instruction?

 

Impact of Differentiation

Understanding what we want out of differentiated instruction is just as important as achieving differentiated instruction.

Reading skill, curricular achievement and student engagement were the three most common outcome measures of differentiation in the scoping review. The impact on student learning mostly varied between neutral to positive. 

If you are looking for outcome measures, the three outcomes of reading skill, curricular achievement and student engagement would be a good place to start, as so much prior research has been done on them already. But that is not to dissuade you from picking other goals that are pertinent to your community and school. 

Sprig Learning’s programs are inclusive by design and work with students across all literacy and numeracy needs and abilities. In early education, the acquisition of oral language is a critical  outcome to measure which impacts other subsequent learning outcomes. 

Brainstorm Question: What other objectives can you think of that would be an ideal outcome from undertaking a differentiated instruction plan?

 

Strategy Tips on How to Apply Differentiated Instruction

Thus far, we have covered the challenges that exist to achieving differentiated instruction, the proposed solutions, and the reality of its implementation as it pertains to practices, influences and outcomes.

But there is more. No two schools are exactly the same, and guidance is required when it comes to using all this knowledge to inform a particular differentiated instruction strategy. We have devised 3 rules, based on the work of experts in this field.

 

Rule 1: Know Your Students

John McCarthy, education consultant, describes the learner relationship model. It consists of what teachers prepare and how students engage. There is a student response for every component of a differentiated instructional strategy. 

Students demonstrate different readiness to the content, different interests to the processes, and end up with different learning profiles as they are formatively assessed. 

No matter what differentiated instruction strategy is applied, it ultimately has to appeal to the students. “Getting to know kids as individuals through one-on-one conferences is the backbone of differentiated reading”, says Laura Robb, author, teacher and reading expert.

 

Rule 2: Start Somewhere. Start Slow If Needed.

Carol Ann Tomlinson, considered the pioneer of differentiated instruction, says “start with a few low-prep strategies.” 

Indeed, having some degree of differentiated instruction is better than having no differentiation at all. Ideally, you would want to differentiate the content, the process, the product (assessments) and the learning environment. But differentiating just one of these is a good start. 

Offering students more options of learning materials and choices of how they want to demonstrate their understanding is a healthy start. If it’s too much work to change current lesson plans, it is recommended to at least integrate one differentiated lesson per unit.

 

Rule 3: Leverage Data

In a systematic synthesis of the research on principals’ effect on schools, the types of leadership behaviors covered in this article such as facilitating collaboration amongst educators and developing professional learning communities were driven by people skills, instruction skills and organization skills. 

Strategic data use was one of the organization skills listed where educators had access to students’ data and principals had access to educators’ data. It created a data-driven approach to differentiated instruction, where educators and administrators could jointly decide on what was working and what had to be changed.

 

More to Come

The School Superintendents Association stresses the importance of informed leadership when it comes to the application of differentiated instruction. In closing, we thank you for taking the time to read The Unrivaled Miniguide to Introducing Differentiated Instruction in Early Learning.

It’s our attempt at providing the bird’s eye view of differentiated instruction as it is practiced today. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at letstalk@spriglearning.com

If you like what you read, please subscribe to the Sprig Blog. In the near future, we will release a longer version of this miniguide with more insights, tips and rules to follow. Sprig Learning believes in differentiated instruction as a strategy to close the achievement gap. Help us to help every child have a fair shot at success.

Benefits of Differentiated Instruction in Early Learning—The Comprehensive List [With Matching Strategies]

Sprig Learning believes that every child is truly unique with their own learning gifts, strengths and challenges. Naturally, we endorse differentiated instruction, or differentiated learning, as a teaching method. It is the act of varying instruction based on the needs and progress of groups of students. When customized for just one student, it is known as individualized instruction. 

Multiple studies prove the efficiency of differentiated or individualized instruction. It is starkly different to whole group instruction, which is the traditional way of teaching to the whole class, instead of groups or individuals. 

It’s a lot to ask a program or an educator to introduce or change their current curriculum or teaching practice to adopt new content or teaching methods. One of the benefits of differentiated instruction is that it doesn’t require teachers to implement a complete overhaul. Differentiated instruction only requires that one of the following elements be modified to suit the needs of the student group: teaching content, process, assessments or environment.

There are many ways to vary these elements, it’s likely you already employ the concept of differentiated instruction at some level.

Some of the most popular teaching methods in preschools and kindergarten—such as the hands-on approach, cooperative learning, conference learning and play-based learning—are not mutually exclusive. Mixing and matching them is one form of differentiated instruction. The educator sees what type of learning certain groups of students are most receptive to, and modifies instruction for that group to optimize their learning.

 

Need for Effort and Seeing the Benefits of Differentiated Instruction

Of course, everytime you modify an aspect of teaching, it requires planning and effort. There is also the aspect of follow up thereafter, to see if the varied instruction had its intended effect on the students. 

It’s why understanding the benefits of differentiated instruction is crucial. With proper understanding, greater clarity is achieved on why there is a need to differentiate. 

For this article, we browsed through both industry and academic literature to gather all the benefits of differentiated instruction. Each benefit is matched with a strategy. The benefits can be realized by following the respective strategy.

 

Differentiated Instruction Benefits & Strategies to Realize Them

Addresses Learning Gaps

Differentiated instruction is effective at providing appropriate instruction to students with a wide range of abilities. Some young students learn very quickly, while others need more time to learn and absorb specific concepts. Differentiated instruction takes both speed and depth into account when tailoring instruction. 

Strategy: When flexible grouping and self-selected reading time are used, targeted students are able to improve their phonemic, decoding and comprehension skills. 

 

Considers Both Active and Passive Learning

As everything depends on the unique learning strengths and opportunities of the student in differentiated instruction, the differentiated instruction teaching method  is very open to active learning, which is experiential in nature. Usually early learners prefer to engage more in play-based learning, but there are some who prefer a more informal learning. 

Strategy: For active learners, teach outdoors as well as in the classroom. Scheduling a lot of movement breaks is considered a teaching best practice for early learners. 

 

Caters to Individual Strengths

Young students have both learning strengths and challenges. If any course material or learning style does not consider learning strengths, then they are less likely to overcome learning gaps. It’s very common for students to struggle with certain concepts and skills, but by focusing on learning strengths, it is possible to unlock a child’s full potential. 

Strategy: The National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities indicates that one out of five children struggle with the process of learning to read. It is important to remind ourselves that there have been many studies conducted prior on this topic and that the evidence suggests that “teaching children to decode letters and words, incorporating a whole language technique, and utilizing phonics instruction” are useful for gaining reading proficiency. 

 

Values Individual Interests and Abilities

Differentiated instruction is student-centered. Early learners inform educators how they best learn and what interests them. This is especially relevant in children from different linguistic and cultural communities. Relevant educator resources are needed to appeal to them. 

Strategy: In a study involving 48 elementary school teachers where they documented lesson objectives and recorded pre- and post-differentiated instruction results, students felt greater ownership of the class content and their performances when they were given choices in how they wanted to learn and be assessed. 

 

Does Not Neglect the Benefits of Group Learning

Differentiated learning is not the same as individualized learning, where learning takes place on a one-to-one basis. Differentiated learning can accommodate the individual learner as well, but it recognizes all the advantages of group learning where early learners can interact with their peers.  

Strategy: Use the think-pair-share method where students conversate amongst themselves before sharing their ideas with the whole classroom. 

 

Equally Qualitative and Quantitative

Differentiated instruction uses both qualitative and quantitative data to teach and assess early learners. When varying teaching content between differently skilled learners, it’s important to vary the difficulty of work. When assessing young students, it’s important to note all information about their learning environment.

Strategy: The whole basis of differentiated instruction is that not everyone is equally good at everything. Thus varying the length or quantity of assessment exercise or scaffolding the same learning activity into varied levels of difficulty are popular differentiation methods. While they are more tactics than strategy, they can be collectively looked at as a strategy. 

 

Increases Participation

Differentiated instruction has been proven to increase student engagement. Without active or passive participation, learning can often screech to a halt. 

Strategy: In the same study mentioned prior for “Values Individual Interests and Abilities”, it was found that students were more “motivated to stay engaged” in classes when they had greater say in the course content and methods of assessments. They displayed higher energy levels.

 

Includes Comprehensive Assessment

In order to differentiate, there is no getting around the need for a holistic assessment. It’s interesting that a distinction is made between educating the “whole child” versus targeted learning. In reality, both can be combined where the right targeted learning can be applied only after understanding the whole child.

Strategy: Use holistic assessments to unleash a comprehensive understanding of student learning. Not only does this approach gather numerous data points when screening students to properly understand them, it also considers subsequent formative assessments that will be conducted on the basis of this initial understanding. 

 

Ensures Flexibility for Teachers

The majority of this article is about students. But what about teachers? Differentiated instruction also takes educator preferences into account, where it provides them the opportunity to design lessons meant for particular groups of students. The approach is not restricted by a rigid curriculum, but can be creative in finding solutions of how to best teach the curriculum content to all students. 

Strategy: Regardless of the learning approach chosen, it must consist of “respectful activities”. Carol Ann Tomlinson, an education innovator and teacher, considered to be the pioneer of differentiated instruction, uses that term to refer to activities that are not dull drills or just fluff. Students have to continually work on tasks that motivate them and are considered valuable.

 

Is Inclusive Towards All

Differentiated instruction is aware of the current inequity in education. Based on this understanding, it attempts to provide students a high-standard quality of education so students have the opportunities and resources to excel regardless of their background or circumstances. 

Strategy: Depending on where your school is located, it’s important that the curriculum is reflective of the needs of the student body. When children see their culture and language reflected in classroom materials, they are more inclined to learn. 

 

Assessment is Thorough and Ongoing

Differentiated instruction uses formative assessments to monitor the growth of all students. It’s often that a student’s interests change or that their improvement accelerates or decelerates over time. Thus, in between summative assessments such as yearly progress reports or report cards, it’s important to keep track of learning trajectories. 

Strategy: Allow for do-overs when it comes to assessment. Sometimes young learners understand a concept but for whatever situational reason, may not be able to demonstrate that learning. In such instances, allowing them more chances to prove themselves before shifting anything else is worth exploring. It is an underutilized strategy.

 

Gels Well With Technology

Differentiated instruction is no doubt linked with collecting data. For years teachers have painstakingly collected notes on student files and organized them into folders. All of this takes time away from their actual teaching activities. Thanks to the ease of technology, all observatory notes, performance evaluations, and assessments can be stored electronically. 

Strategy: Technology assisted self-paced learning is optimal for differentiation, but for early learning all such activities must be supervised by adults. Despite the advantages of gamification of learning, it’s better that learning happens offscreen but that adults (teachers and parents) have a way to track progress using technology. 

 

Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) Are Accommodated

IEPs are a form of individualized instruction, where teachers are required to modify their teaching practices for special needs students. But just because a student is a part of an IEP, does not mean that their unique strengths and challenges cannot be differentiated further just like any other student. They can also be grouped with similar students with learning difficulties so they can benefit from group learning. 

Strategy: IEPs have specialized and intensive supports specific to a child’s IEP information, goals and objectives. Examples include waiting for a longer period of time for responses and prompting when response is not given.

 

Further Differentiated Instruction Strategies

While any other differentiated instruction benefits can be grouped under one of these benefits, it’s not the same for strategies of which there are plenty more. For example, there are choice boards, learning contracts, tiered assignments, etc.  

Differentiated instruction’s positive impacts have been proven in both preschools and kindergartens, so it’s important that educators, school leaders, and education technology providers are on the same page when it comes to determining the best strategies. 

But before that happens, it’s important to ask if differentiation instruction is serious enough to be considered a major objective? If the answer to that question is yes, then the right strategies (both included in this list and others) can be proposed. But first, we should closely examine the need for differentiation. We hope the list helps.

How Differentiated Learning Supports All Forms of Early Learning

Carol Ann Tomlinson, an author and educator, is credited with pioneering differentiated instruction. Since its inception, differentiated instruction has gained massive popularity. In many ways, it is connected to all forms of modern early learning approaches. Differentiated learning is often used interchangeably with differentiated instruction. They are one and the same.

In a survey of 601 teachers, 98% said they differentiate their instruction weekly. Of that 98%, 86% say that differentiation is extremely effective. 

In this article, we will define the term differentiated instruction, clarify what it means for early learners, highlight differentiated instruction strategies, and make the connection to other learning approaches for young students. We will conclude with a word on the future of differentiated instruction.

Differentiated Instruction. The Clearest Definition.

Differentiated instruction is described in many ways. We’ve chosen the following definition:

Differentiated instruction is a planned teaching approach that recognizes the differences and similarities among students and adapts accordingly. 

In other words, it acknowledges the diversity of learning needs, styles, and backgrounds of the student, and accordingly modifies instruction for each student.

Differentiated instruction is ready to help every early learner by knowing as much about them through assessments. It is also willing to modify instruction based on student responses at the onset of the school year, or at any other time during the school year.

From the student’s perspective, it’s called personalized learning, but from the teacher’s perspective it is differentiated instruction.

What Exactly Is Differentiated?

Having understood what differentiated instruction is, the best way to delve deeper into its nature is to highlight what exactly educators can differentiate to adopt such a teaching approach. 

There are four things that can be differentiated to provide a unique learning experience.

Content

Content refers to the knowledge, understanding and skills that young students have to learn. 

A school curriculum defines content for young learners. Curriculum mapping is the process by which teachers plan their instruction throughout the school year. This ensures the goals, objectives, learning materials and course assessments all align to what is being taught to the students. 

Example of differentiated content: Leveled readers, optional mini-lessons, text materials that are digitized through audio or video.

Process

Process refers to the activities or practices by which students understand content. 

By internalizing, practicing and by associating with the teacher and other students, the students figure out what they have learned and its applications beyond the classroom. 

Example of differentiated process: Different pace of instruction, different support, customized groups of students.

Product

Product refers to the outcome of the process and content. When a process is applied to certain content, learning occurs. The students then get to demonstrate this learning via assessments or other means. 

Example of differentiated product: Different check-in points, formative assessments and holistic assessments, different criteria for success.

Environment

Environment refers to the set and setting where content, process and product happens. It accounts for the student’s feelings on what they were able to learn as a result of following a process on particular content. 

Example of differentiated environment: Outdoor learning, individual instruction, centre-based learning.

Differentiated Instruction Strategies

The four modifiable differentiation components offer many opportunities to tailor an educational pathway that is personalized for the young learner. 

It’s best to have learning strategies available that reflect all four components. Here are key examples:

Project-based Learning

Project based allows teachers to differentiate by teams. It’s a great way to cluster students according to their reading level, or other strengths, interests, or social skills such as collaboration and empathy.

Formative Assessments

Formative assessments are used to monitor learning and provide ongoing feedback. They are distinct from summative assessments in that they are conducted throughout the school year, and not only at certain times of the year. 

They allow educators to take corrective action quickly when they see skills are not progressing as they should. Formative assessments were specifically designed as a tool for differentiated instruction in the classroom.

Learning Stations

Customizing learning stations is an effective teaching strategy. Stations are set up with different content and purpose in terms of the student in each group.  Teachers can also rotate students between stations so everybody has a chance to learn from each experience.

Learning Profiles

A learning profile looks at a student’s interest and readiness in various subject matters to accurately capture and support their learning strengths, needs and challenges. 

It allows teachers to focus on any learning gaps and optimize teaching based on what the students have a natural inclination towards.

Differentiated Instruction’s Relationship to Early Learning Approaches

There are other very popular approaches to early learning. We explore the connection between differentiated instruction and these other learning approaches. 

Play-based Learning

Also known as active learning or experiential learning, play-based learning is when young children learn through interactions with people, objects and the environment that they are in. 

By engaging with what is around them, they exercise their impulse to play and understand the world. It is self-chosen and usually led by the child. 

Relationship to Differentiated Learning: Play-based learning is a powerful way to differentiate the process of learning.

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)

SEL teaches young students how to develop self-awareness, social-awareness and interpersonal skills. 

It leads to better academic performance, positive behavior and healthier life choices that influence the quality of life in future years. By better understanding their emotions, children are able to better manage themselves and make responsible decisions. 

Relationship to Differentiated Learning: SEL is all about the interaction with others and giving space to feelings. As such, it’s an extremely useful method to support those learners who are more social or affective.

Inclusive Learning

Inclusive learning recognizes that all children have the right to a learning experience that respects their unique situation or circumstance.  It enables all students to participate by removing all barriers to learning for anyone with a different background. 

Relationship to Differentiated Learning: Differentiated learning is inclusive by nature. It ensures that no one is kept from reaching their potential simply because the content, process, product or environment was not right for them.

Personalized Learning

Personalized learning is an educational approach that modifies the lesson plan based on each student’s unique skills, abilities, needs and interests. The focus is on one student and it is from the student’s perspective. From the teacher’s perspective, it is called individualized instruction. 

Relationship to Differentiated Learning: Individualized instruction deals with one student at a time. Rather than assigning the same group of students to an activity or assignment, each student is shuffled according to their pace of development and learning needs. It can be part of an overall differentiated instruction strategy, which deals with groups of students.

Is Differentiated Instruction the New Normal?

Research conducted on differentiated instruction demonstrates its effectiveness as a teaching strategy for students with varied needs. In a three year study, researchers found that differentiated instruction yielded positive results for several groups in mixed ability K-12 classrooms in Alberta.

To demonstrate its sway on the culture, there are now courses that offer early childhood development with differentiated instruction.

But as differentiated instruction can be resource intensive and time consuming, it has not become the norm just yet. The industry, the government and academia are working together to introduce new solutions that make it easier to apply differentiated instruction across classrooms in North America. 

When differentiated instruction is added to a program, early learners often show significant gains in oral language vocabulary, print knowledge, phonological awareness, and math. The ubiquitous nature of technology has definitely helped to propel the advancement of differentiated instruction.

Vince Hill, former principal at Grasslands School Division, states how over half of teachers surveyed say that technology helps them individualize their classroom instruction. Collaborating with Sprig Learning has helped him to apply differentiated instruction at his school, which has a mix of students from varied socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. He stresses the importance of collecting data in a safe and secure way to account for the learning needs of all and to measure the progress of such a diversity of students.

Holistic Learning–The Epitome of Differentiated Instruction

One of the best ways to create a strong foundation for early learners is through holistic learning. It makes use of holistic assessments that support differentiated instruction by not only looking at the student, but also their parents and the community they live in. 

Similarly to differentiated instruction, holistic learning has links to all other types of learning. It considers play, sociability, emotions, inclusiveness and personalization. 

Furthermore, holistic learning compliments Indigenous learning perspective where equal emphasis is given to the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual areas of development. This opens up many doors to learning such as visual learning, auditory learning, kinesthetic learning and of course reading and writing.. 

But to get to the level where early learners can build the foundational literacy and numeracy skills, early development such as oral language and problem solving is crucial! Holistic learning is thus key, where more than one mode of learning is available to the young student.

Differentiated Instruction as a Way of Thinking

Certain events can force you to think about differentiation. For example, alternate modes of learning such as e-learning, could have been seen as a differentiation tactic in the past, but the pandemic forced all schools to think about it regardless. 

Approximately four of ten school districts reported last year that they do not have the ability to provide e-learning for students, even for a single day. So when thinking about differentiated learning, it helps to be prepared so you will be able to serve different students based on their situation at the time.

But even beyond contingency plans, it is important to see differentiated instruction as a concept, and not as a tool or tactic. 

We hope this article sparks your interest in differentiated instruction. When you understand the fundamental concept of differentiated instruction, you can’t help but notice it in teaching methods and strategies already used in the classroom. If you ever need to brainstorm ideas, here is a list of 50 strategies to differentiate learning. But as educator and teacher advice columnist Larry Ferlazzo says “Differentiating instruction is really a way of thinking, not a preplanned list of strategies”.