The ABC’S of Differentiation in Education
Differentiation has always been an instructional model for educators. Basically, educators need to make changes in content, process, product, and environment to meet the diverse needs of their students. This is especially important because the elementary standards provide the building blocks of future learning. At an elementary level, typically, these modifications have been done primarily by the teacher working with other staff members, which may also include the special education staff. Now, school districts are utilizing non-traditional alternatives to meet the various needs of the entire student population. Ideas can range from a shortened day to remote learning and many options in between. Educational stakeholders need to understand the ABCs of alternative education to increase their awareness of this topic. This will allow them to support educators as they explore these opportunities at an elementary level.
Modifying the school day allows students’ individual learning needs to be met. In any elementary classroom, there will be students reading well below grade level and others who have mastered grade-level math curriculum on the fall assessment. This can be challenging for a teacher to meet all these needs. Modification can come in the form of a shortened day, pull-out for special education and intervention support, and utilizing online learning platforms or virtual schools to help students excel. All students can learn and master concepts when they are ready through these programs. This allows teachers to find gaps in their learning to meet the students’ needs, which is vital for future success. Another option may be to shorten the school day for learners performing at or above grade level. This would then allow all the teachers in the building to be paired with students who need intense and specific academic instruction in core subject areas. Basically, it’s an “all hands on deck” model.
Behavior or Residential Treatment Facilities
Not all students thrive in a traditional school setting. Access to mental health facilities and providers can help students learn basic educational standards while getting treatment. The purpose of these programs is to provide structure for students dealing with cognitive or behavioral issues. For students who need these services, a short or long-term plan is developed through an IEP or the special education referral process. Some schools are creating a site-based behavioral classroom, often called an ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) classroom, which provides students with additional support through small group instruction to help manage behavior and academic learning.
Curriculum and Charter Schools
State and national standards are met through the use of an adopted curriculum. Charter schools may have more flexibility in how the standards are delivered. For example, a school may have all components of STEAM or perhaps only one emphasis. This type of offering may often be called “choice schools,” where students are given the choice or control of what they learn.
As a stakeholder you have a unique opportunity to help schools regardless of physical structure. You can provide ways to engage learners in various settings through resources and materials.
There are many ways to provide differentiation throughout the day, but by thinking outside the box, educators and stakeholders may find a better way to address students’ individual needs. Alternative education can be implemented successfully at an elementary school with support from educational stakeholders.
Written by: Teresa Marchant
School Librarian at LOCKWOOD SCHOOL DISTRICT 26
Teresa has been an educator for over 25 years. She holds a Master’s in Educational Technology with an emphasis in Online Instruction from Montana State University as well as a certificate in School Library Media from the University of Washington. Over the years she has served in many capacities at the state and local level. Highlights include being the Vice Chair of the Certification Standards and Practices Advisory Council to the Montana Board of Public Education, a member of the School Leadership Team and Chair of the Professional Development Committee for her school district, and a member of the Montana Library Association board. She loves learning and enjoys helping others!
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