Differentiation is a one word description for a method to reach every student and provide them with access to the curriculum that fits their learning style and their interests. There are four areas that differentiation can occur: product, process, content, and environment.To me, environment is the most important. It is an essential part of effective classroom management and provides the foundation to every other area that can be differentiated. Plus, it can easily adapted to every classroom with no need for specialized technology or huge effort on your part. I have definitely embraced a differentiated environment in my own classroom by using the following guidelines:
- Defined areas for activities- In my classroom, there are defined areas for direct instruction and areas for group or independent activities. This could be as simple as desks in the middle of the room for direct instruction and tables around the edge of the room for group/pair/independent activities. You can switch it up and allow an area in the front of the classroom for direct instruction and an area towards the back of the classroom for group activities. I wouldn’t suggest having students move desks or furniture around the room. This wastes valuable time and allows students a chance to engage in off-task behavior.
- Set guidelines for movement- There are some students that struggle with sitting for long periods of time. These are the students that I try to sit around the edge of the classroom. I allow them to stand up near their desks as needed. It is a process that I establish the guidelines for early on in the year. For instance, you may stand by your desk or walk between these areas, but you may not go to the classroom door to look out the window or cause a disturbance to any of your classmates. It is a privilege that the student may lose if they are not responsible.
- Establish a routine- The activities in my classroom vary, but the order of how we do things day-to-day does not. Students are aware of activities they can work on if they finish early. These activities can be completed independently. If they need assistance and are waiting on me, they may choose to skip to another problem/question or ask a partner for help. It has to be about the content and not idle chit chat.
- Positive and Relaxing- I am fortunate enough to have a teaching assistant. My rule for the classroom is that one of us has to be up at all times circulating the room. In most cases, it is both of us. My students also have a choice between working with the lights on or off. Luckily, my classroom window provides needed light, but I also have lamps that can be utilized. Lastly, I use background music for independent work time. A great station to use is Pandora’s Vitamin String Quartet. I also use their Motown station occasionally.
My belief in a positive learning environment is based upon a common sense approach. How many of us would enjoy working in an environment where we are unsure of what will happen daily, our abilities are ridiculed, and the silence is deafening? I hasten to say very few of us would look forward to facing an environment like this regardless of whether it is in our professional or personal lives. Would you agree? And in what ways do you provide a differentiated environment?