“Finally, as a Virtual Teaching Kindergarten Teacher, I was able to breathe and rest easy knowing that my students were actually learning.”
This is me now.
But it wasn’t that long ago when I was hastily packing up my classroom. Grabbing everything in sight as we ventured into the unknown world of Distance Learning.
I brought home everything I could: paper, books, calendars, whiteboards. Not knowing what this term “Virtual Learning” actually entailed. That’s when all the questions started:
“Will I still be able to assess my students?”
“How do I know that they are actually learning?”
“Can I still meet my students at the skill levels they are currently at if I can’t even work with them one on one?”
Fast forward 7 months… and we are still here.
Except for this time, I can rest easy. Because I finally found the answer to my problem: Differentiated Instruction.
Now I know some might get an uneasy feeling by the phrase “Differentiated Instruction.” Some people might even want to click out of this post.
I was the same when I first started. Distance Learning is already hard enough, how am I supposed to Differentiate Instruction too?
But I am here to tell you that Differentiating Instruction is exactly the answer you are looking for. Differentiating Instruction does not have to be that difficult. In fact, I guarantee there are some ideas that I am going to suggest that you are already doing.
Because of Differentiating Instruction, I go to bed at night happily knowing that my students are learning. I know that because of all the systems I have set in place, I have time to do things that I enjoy most. Like building relationships.
And I want to share with you exactly how I got there with this step by step post on how to use Differentiated Instruction while Distance Learning. But first, let’s go over what Differentiated Instruction is.
(This post may contain affiliate or external links. Meaning I get a commision if you purchase anything through my links at no cost to you. Read full disclosure here.)
What is Differentiated Instruction?
Differentiated Instruction is essentially tailoring instruction to meet the needs of students where they are at right now. Much like the quote stated above, Differentiated Instruction supports the concept that students learn differently. Therefore, it would make sense that we cannot teach each student the same way.
Differentiated Instruction consists of 4 main elements: content, process, products, and learning environment.
- Content- How students access knowledge (books, articles, videos, etc)
- Process- How students will reach their objective. (Worksheets, writing papers, creating posters, etc.)
- Products- How students will show their knowledge (Speeches, presentations, writing, making a video, etc.)
- Learning Environment- The environment in which students access the learning (school or in this instance through virtual learning)
If you want to read more about Differentiated Instruction, I recommend reading these articles:
Now that we know what Differentiated Instruction is, let’s look at how each element can be implemented while Distance Learning.
The 4 Components of Differentiated Instruction while Distance Learning
In this section, I am going to break down each element and give some ideas that you can incorporate while Distance Learning.
When I started Distance Learning I thought there was no way I could Differentiate Content. Then I did some research, and I realized how easy it was to Differentiate the content my students were receiving. Even as a Kindergarten Teacher!
For example, I decided to use my Differentiated High-Frequency Word Lists for my students that I was already using before Distance Learning. This way my students were utilizing the skill level that they were at while still reaching the same goal. And I was utilizing resources that I already had.
Another way I Differentiated the Content my students were receiving digitally was to take into account their learning styles. As a teacher I had to assess if my students were:
- Auditory Learners
- Visual Learners
- Kinesthetic Learners
- Reading Writing Learners
(If you want to read more about different types of learners and how to identify them in class, you can read this article.)
After I had identified my Different types of learners, I started Differentiating the content that they were receiving. For example,
- Posting a video of my lesson that may include demonstrations, models, and diagrams (This helps my Auditory and Visual Learners)
- Utilizing Movement Videos Like Jack Hartman (This helps my Kinesthetic Learners)
- Reading a story about what we were learning about (This helps my Reading and Writing Learners)
If you think about it, this was probably things you were already doing before Distance Learning. But now, I make sure to have all the learning styles incorporated into my lesson while I’m delivering content.
The next form of Instruction that I was able to Differentiate while Distance Learning was the process. I like to think of “Process” as to how students are going to practice the skill to reach mastery.
Let’s consider the Sight Words for example. When we started the year off, I knew I needed to have differentiated worksheets to give to my students. Especially since I wouldn’t be there to adjust their daily work.
Hence, I decided to search through Teachers Pay Teachers and see if I could find any already premade worksheets that were differentiated. That way I could just put it in their packets or assign them digitally.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the worksheets I was looking for. So I decided to create my own! Now I can differentiate instruction while learning sight words and I can share it with others.
But, that’s not the only thing I differentiated. After that, I even started to Differentiate the writing my students were doing. For this, I read a story about a topic we were learning about. This helped with my reading and writing learners. And then I created Differentiated writing worksheets to appeal to the different skill levels my students were at.
For instance, I read the story “How Big Can Your Pumpkin Grow?” because we were learning about Measurement. Then I created these Differentiated Writing Worksheets that allowed my students to practice or process the skill.
Overall, there are several ways you can still Differentiate Instruction while Distance Learning. Specifically for the “process” of Differentiation. Here are some examples that you can consider while differentiating the “process” while Distance Learning:
- Find Differentiated Digital Worksheets on Teachers Pay Teachers
- Have students practice or “Process” the information in different ways based on their learning style (Draw a picture, write about it, worksheets, etc.)
- Create Differentiated Packets based on the skills they are learning
Another way to Differentiate Instruction while Distance Learning would be to differentiate the “Product.” In other words, you can have learners show “what they know” in different ways. And the best way I have been able to incorporate this into the digital or virtual classroom is with “Choice Boards.”
I first ran into choice boards while scrolling through TPT. When I found them, I was hooked! I felt like being in a Virtual Classroom didn’t allow a lot of choices like it did in the actual class. Since then I have incorporated them into my classroom and my students love them!
For their “Final Product” I wanted to give students to choose how they showed me they knew what we covered in class. Here are some of the “Choices” I give my students that you are welcome to use!
- Drawing a picture and labeling it (this can be done on a whiteboard, poster, or just a piece of paper)
- Create a Video on Flipgrid (Depending on the age, this is a great tool that my students love!)
- Complete a Kahoot! (Perfect for those quick assessments like sight words)
- Write about it (This can be done on a whiteboard, piece of paper, etc.)
- Create a song about it (My students love to move so a lot of them pick this one!)
And the list goes on!
Overall, there are so many ways you can have students show off their knowledge. And each of these appeals to the different types of learners, which was my main priority. Honestly, choice boards have changed my life. I feel like I have my old classroom back. And they are so easy to make! Just make a table, type, and then you’re done!
The final way to Differentiate Instruction while Distance Learning is to Differentiate the Environment. At first, I thought there was no way I could control my student’s learning environment when I wasn’t there with them! But then I realized: I can’t control my student’s learning environment while they are Distance Learning. But I can give them the tools they need to make their environment better.
One example is that I missed the collaboration between students. That’s why I decided to look into Google Hangouts Breakout rooms. This is a great way to have your students collaborate and work together on group projects or answer prompts in a fun and engaging way.
I also started sending home resources I thought they would need. Like sending them a word wall to hang up at their house. You can also send home headphones, a mouse. Another idea is to send home a clothesline and clothespins to hang up their art in their learning space. I have even heard of people sending home “Little Monsters” so that they have someone to talk to and share answers with.
There are so many things you could incorporate to make their learning space that much better. Here is a summary of some of the ideas we have discussed:
- Utilizing Google Hangout Break out Rooms
- Sending home a “Word Wall” or Poster
- Giving them tools to Hang up their work
- Sending them a “Buddy” to Share answers with
Why Should I Differentiate Instruction while Distance Learning?
Now that we have gone over some ideas on how to Differentiate Instruction while Distance Learning, I am sure some of us are still wondering “Why?”
Remember how at the beginning I told you that I was able to rest easy because my students are learning? Well, it’s true!
Because of Differentiating Instruction, teaching has been so much easier. Differentiating instruction has allowed my students to take charge of their learning again. And instead of being the sole provider of information and instruction, I can sit back and let the resources and systems doing the teaching. After all:
Another great advantage of utilizing Differentiated Instruction while Distance Learning is that I don’t worry as much if my students are learning. I can see from the data and the projects that: they are learning!
In fact, my students are so excited to have their choices back and be independent learners. Because education is a journey. It is not me telling them how to learn and why. I am just there to guide them.
With that in mind, I am also able to spend more time creating relationships with my students. Another important perk: I can be Present and enjoy Today and not stress about tomorrow.
Let’s summarize why Differentiating Instruction while Distance Learning can help:
- It makes teaching easier.
- Differentiating Instruction allows students to take charge of their learning.
- It allows the teacher to be the guide.
- Differentiating Instruction allows teachers to be more Present and focus on what matters most.
All in all, Differentiating Instruction while Distance Learning can seem daunting. Trust me, I was terrified when I first started. But it doesn’t matter what age group you teach, or if you are Distance Learning. Differentiating Instruction can help you be the teacher you were meant to be.
And you don’t need to differentiate everything from the start. Focus on one small thing, and then move to the next. Believe me, it’s worth it!
I hope this helped and I am so excited to hear from you! Did I miss any ideas? Please feel free to share in the comments below!
Because together, we are stronger!