Differentiating Instruction in Learning Centers with Simple Switches

Let’s do a story problem. If you have 20 students in a classroom, how many different learning styles will you have to take into account when planning your lessons? If you said 20, you are correct! Differentiating instruction in centers can be one of the hardest things to do. Why? Because we think we need to re-invent the wheel for every student. However, we can make differentiating instruction in centers completely possible with these three easy strategies.

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Differentiating Instruction in Centers with Your Presentation

You have your way of presenting, and it can be hard to change something that you’ve been possibly doing for years. But, there is something to paying attention to your delivery and how effective if it is. You can differentiate instruction by looking over your playbook and making a few changes.

Keep All Hands on Deck

If you know your students are better when they are doing something, try to incorporate some hands on practices that get students involved in their learning. For example, if you are teaching fifth graders fractions in your centers, you can have a center that has a paper pizza. With that pizza, you can have different word problems for students to figure out.

Take it to Technology

Another way differentiate instruction with your presentation is to take it online. A manipulative online tool can be effective for students who learn better with digital centers. In a world full of technology, it’s something students are accustomed to which makes instructions a bit easier for you. in addition, digital documents can be easily manipulated for differentiated instruction.

Gamify Your Classroom

Whether you are playing a review game like BUMP or Squares Your Brain in your first-grade math and literacy centers or playing a different game completely, games are intriguing! Differentiating instruction through the use of a game takes the work out of homework. Games can bring out the naturally competitive nature of kids no matter what age. So, try to introduce a fun game with your kindergarten group that just has to move or your fourth graders who need to get the wiggles out.

Keep It Stickin’ Simple

Sometimes when you are differentiating, old school is the best school. Worksheets are easy to modify based on a student’s level of performance. If you group your students in centers homogenously, they can be working on the level they are at. This will help you give your students simple and perhaps more meaningful feedback as well.

Perfecting Your Process for Differentiated Instruction

Sometimes how students learn is why differentiating instruction is difficult. Remember the math problem from before? If you have 20 students in the classroom, chances are you have several different ways students will process what you are trying to teach them.

Working Solo

Some students work better when they are alone. Independence is something we try to promote in our students, but it can be seen as “taboo” at times too. However, if you know a student works better or gets more out of something when he/she works alone, you should not deprive them of the ability to get the most out of their work. You can differentiate by having a “solo path” in your math and literacy centers. All you need to is just make sure it is part of the plan. If you know your second grader on an IEP gets overwhelmed in groups, you can send him/her on the solo path to success. This not only helps the student, but can also be good for avoiding classroom management issues.

Two Heads

Although some students work better alone, some need another person to bounce ideas off of. If you choose to partner students to differentiate, you’ll want to have a heterogeneous pairing. What does that mean? It simply means you have a student at a higher and lower ability in your centers. For example, if you are working on story problems in third grade math and you have a student who is a lower level reader, you might try to pair the student with a higher level reader. This will help with the comprehension aspect of story problems and the other student will be able to help the student who is struggling.

One-on-One Instruction

Sometimes what a student really needs is the teacher. If your second grade student is struggling with digital centers, what he/she might really need is just you. You are the person with all of the answers to the students in the classroom. For some students, you will be the person they feel the most comfortable with. If this is the case, you should ensure that student is solo when they get to your center during the center rotation.

Differentiate with a New Product in Mind

The world, and students, are not a one-size fits all model. If you know a student requires differentiated instruction, you should expect a different end product to assess their learning. A student who struggles with reading comprehension might not be able to finish the at level fourth grade text you have in your digital center. The student might need a shorter piece or piece at a different level or you might alter how you assess their comprehension level.

Ticket Out the Door

For some students, a quick exit slip or a little worksheet is best. Having three to five questions to answer to exit out of the center for a student who struggles can tell you what they still need help with. The exit slip can either have questions that you know the student can answer, or it can level up. The first question easier, maybe even one step down, and the last question a step or two above where the student was.

Verbalizing Your Learning

Sometimes writing is the hard part of expressing what you can and cannot do. For a student who struggles with writing, you might have a verbal alternative. With a verbal alternative, the student can either come and talk to the teacher directly, or they can do a recording. With technology being all the rage, you might have a spot in your digital math and reading center that asks to make a flip grid or just give you a simple recording. Flip grids are wonderful, but they might be better for older students in third grade and up.

Groove to Great Understanding

Just like some students learn best hands on, some students will need you to see them complete a task. Assessing isn’t always a piece of paper or a digital document from a digital center. Assessing the end product can come from watching a student reason through a story problem or work through a text that is a bit harder than what they started with. If a student cannot do this in person, you can have them show you on a video. A flip grid would be very effective in showing how a student completes a task.

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Centers can be intricate tools to get started in your classroom especially once you add differentiating instruction into the mix. You can find great ways to make your centers work by tuning into my Learning Centers Master Class

You can easily differentiate your learning centers in one of these three areas. To help you keep track of your differentiation, I have created this simple checklist below! Grab your copy and start differentiating instruction in your centers today!

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