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Differentiated Instruction in the Secondary Classroom

Janelle Cox

For many elementary school teachers, differentiated instruction has become part of their everyday routine. However, for secondary teachers, the thought of differentiated instruction can be quite overwhelming. Many teachers are understandably wary because the idea of having to create a laundry list of options for all of their students involves a lot of time. What secondary teachers do not realize is that differentiation can be achieved. The goal is to move all student toward the same goal. In order to do that you, will have to do a few things first. Here are some tips to help you get started with differentiated instruction in your secondary classroom.

Differentiated Instruction: Tweak Methods to Engage All Levels

Instead of stressing out over coming up with a list of options that will suit each student in the classroom, try to tweak the lessons that you already have. Focus on where students need the most attention, and then use different avenues to grab their attention. For example, break students into small groups and zero in on that specific group’s individual needs. You will find that many students will be on the same page. So group similar level students with one another to focus on their particular needs.

Use Various Groupings

Teachers no longer “Teach to the middle,” so having a variety of seating charts (pairs, small groups, and large groups) is a great strategy to use when trying to reach all learners. Get students used to working in a variety of different groups so that it will be easy for students to transition to them when you want them to. Experimenting with a variety of different groupings will help you set the stage for differentiation. Students can be in one group for similar interests, and another group for readiness or learning preference.

Use a Pre-Assessment Strategy

Differentiation is the adjustment that you as the teacher make in response to student performance. A pre-assessment will allow you to figure out what and where each student currently is regarding to the content that you want to teach them. For example, if you want your students to learn a specific math concept and you want to make sure that you reach all learners at once, you can pre-assess them on that specific concept before you teach it to find out their knowledge and ability on it. You can look for patterns and conceptual understanding, as well as any skill gaps that need to be addressed.

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Try the Jigsaw Technique

A cooperative learning strategy such as the jigsaw technique is an easy and effective way to differentiate a lesson in your classroom. Students are divided into small groups and assigned a task. To differentiate the task, each student within the group is responsible for learning one specific piece of information to bring back and teach the rest of the group. Once you get a feel for your students’ individual interests and learning styles, you will know which student will be better at which task.

Use a Choice Board

Choice boards are not just for elementary school classrooms. Many secondary educators find them to be an effective, easy way to differentiate their lessons. Once you create your choice board for one class, you can use it for all of your classes. For example, if you are an English teacher and want to differentiate your lessons to ensure that you are reaching all of your students, you can create one choice board with a variety of options and use it for every single class that you teach. Any easy way to create a choice board is to use the multiple intelligence theory to help you. This way, you will know that there are at least a few tasks on the board that will be able to reach all learners. You can create your board in a Tic-Tac-Toe format, where students get to choose one task from each row, or in a learning menu format where students can choose from a list of options. Musical students will choose the tasks that require them to write lyrics, sing, dance, or act out. Visual/spatial students will choose the tasks the require them to draw or use manipulatives.

There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to differentiation. You will have to try out a few different strategies until you figure out what works for you and your students. However, your goal is simple: To make sure that you meet the needs of all learners. With a variety of different modalities for you to choose from, you will increase the likelihood that you will be able to reach each and every student in your classroom.

Do you use differentiated instruction in your secondary classroom? If so, what strategies to find to be the most effective? Please feel free to share your tips and ideas in the comment section below, we would love to hear from you.


Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds master's of science in education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Skyword. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.