8 Ways to Get Real With Student Differentiation

Fair is not always equal.

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Visit the Brookes Inclusion Lab Blog for more articles and ideas on creating classrooms to meet the needs of all of your students. Click here to download the free Fair Is Not Always Equal poster.

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Last fall, the Brookes Publishing team created a little poster about student differentiation that took off in a big way. Check it out:

Brookes_Poster_FairIsNotAlwaysEqual student differentiation

The poster went viral as educators shared their love for the Fair is Not Always Equal philosophy—but some teachers asked the tough questions about student differentiation.

  • Realistically, how can we find time to differentiate our teaching for 30 students every single day?
  • We also have the pressures of standardized testing. How can we check off all the boxes and still individualize learning for our students?

And they’re right. It’s easy to talk about student differentiation. But making it work in an actual classroom? That’s another story.

Here’s some practical classroom advice from four of our top teacher authors and experts for making learning in your classroom fair for every student this year.

1. Start small—focus on one change at a time.


For busy teachers, the thought of adopting a completely new way of teaching to meet the needs of all learners can feel like a tall order. But it can seem much more manageable if you start with one small change at a time. For example, if you normally use a black marker to write notes on the board, try using different colors to emphasize different points, and give your students colored pencils to do the same in their notebooks.

 

2. Once you make a small change for student differentiation, stick with it!


After you make a change in the way you differentiate instruction in your classroom, commit to it. Eventually, it will become a natural part of the way you teach. Then it will be easier to focus on making another small change.

Loui Lord Nelson, author of Design and Deliver

 

3. Make a master “cheat sheet” of accommodations.


It can be a huge time saver to have a go-to list of possible accommodations you can use in your classroom. Start collecting ideas, resources, and techniques you get from special ed teachers and specialists or find in professional materials. Then add them all to a dedicated digital file or notebook.

 

4. Team up—even if you’re not officially a co-teacher.


Co-teachers aren’t the only ones who can work with their colleagues when it comes to differentiating lessons. General ed teachers can try “platooning”—combining classes and then grouping students, so each teacher instructs a group that focuses on certain strengths and challenges.

Nicole Eredics, author of the blog The Inclusive Class

5. Make co-teaching a true partnership.


If you are part of an official co-teaching partnership, it can go a long way toward meeting the learning needs of every student—if both partners know the keys to success. One way you can make sure this happens with your co-teacher is to do all the behind-the-scenes work together. You both create lesson plans from the beginning and then differentiate the content, process and materials jointly.

 

6. Switch up your co-teaching arrangement—often.


Take turns leading lessons and supporting. Rather than working with the same small group of students every day, make it a point to switch groups often so you can work with all students in your class on a regular basis.

Julie Causton, author of The Educator’s Handbook for Inclusive School Practices

 

7. Start a peer buddy program.


Peer buddy programs can go a long way in creating a classroom environment where all your students help each other learn. They’re a win-win situation for everyone—even those without disabilities. All students get an opportunity to develop new friendships, interests and acceptance, as well as higher grades.

 

8. Make your classroom collaborative.


If launching a full-on peer buddy program seems overwhelming, it’s OK to start small by matching peers in only one or two classrooms, or even more simply, by inviting buddies to join each other for lunch in the cafeteria. Even though you may fear that starting a program will be time-consuming, you’ll probably be surprised to find how much time your peer buddies actually save you in the classroom.

Carolyn Hughes, author of Peer Buddy Programs for Successful Secondary School Inclusion

 

Want more? Check out the Fair is Not Always Equal blog series for even more ideas and strategies for reaching and teaching every learner in your classroom.

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