Throughout both my undergrad and graduate coursework in education, differentiation was quite the buzzword.
Not only did the concept pop up constantly, but almost no differentiation methods that I was exposed to involved educational technology. I could alter worksheets. I could intervene and extend in small groups. But how could I streamline differentiation, enrich students’ learning experiences, and not stretch myself as their teacher too thin?
Using technology to help differentiate my instruction is a must, and it’s something I’ve learned how to do over time. Throughout my seven years in elementary education, I never ran into a course that specifically told me how to use technology to differentiate in my elementary classroom. So I decided to make one for you.
I have teamed up with OTIS for Educators again to offer a deep dive into the world of differentiating instruction with educational technology specifically for elementary educators. Also if you missed it, I already offer a $4 course through them (yes, only four dollars) with basics on how to incorporate educational technology into the elementary classroom.
Since you all already know me or have run into my little corner of the internet from my own marketing, I want to give you a free taste of what I talk about in my new course right here in this blog.
Differentiation is quite the buzzword like I said, but what is it? If someone were to ask me this before I did my own research on the topic, I would’ve simply said “altering instruction to meet student needs.” That’s not wrong, but there is so much more to differentiation!
Differentiation in terms of instruction can be broken into four categories:
- Content: Differentiating content is altering what knowledge and skills the students are actually learning. When we differentiate content, we do this because we want to meet the students in their zone of proximal development so they can truly grow. This could be teaching standards that are below grade level to hit prior skills that are needed or teaching standards that are above grade level to extend the students’ learning and allow them to still grow and challenge themselves.
In my course, I go into detail what each of these looks like in my classroom and provide 5+ resources for each that hit a variety of subjects and grade levels along with how I use them with my students but I’ll give you a sneak peek into each now. One website I love using with my students to differentiate content is NewsELA. NewsELA is full of news articles that are adapted for students, but my favorite feature is the Lexile selector. A single article can be written at several Lexile levels, and I can assign different Lexile levels for different students.
- Process: Differentiating the learning process is altering how the students learn knowledge and skills. This is especially helpful to meet all students individual needs when, well, there is only one of you.
One tech tool that allows differentiation of process is EdPuzzle. EdPuzzle allows you to take any video and make it a self-paced lesson for students. Not only that, but it also ensures accountability by allowing you to insert questions and interactive elements throughout the video even if you were not the original video creator.
- Product: Differentating the product is when you give students different opportunities to show mastery of skills or knowledge. Why does every assessment have to be the typical worksheet or essay writing? Newsflash: it doesn’t.
One of my students’ favorite tech tools over the years has been Book Creator. Book Creator allows students to feel like authors by creating their own picture books, graphic novels, and more. It can literally be incorporated to show knowledge of any content area. The possibilities are endless and it is so user-friendly (which is an elementary must.)
- Learning Environment: This is the fourth aspect of differentiation and one is so often overlooked. I give my students a survey at the beginning of every year that gives me insight to what I can do to best help them learn. It covers everything from lighting to music to seating. I don’t get into this one a ton in the course, but technology could definitely help in this category. Maybe headphones with music can help students stay productive (as I wear my noise cancelling ear buds jamming to Beyonce typing this blog.) And simply being on a device for independent learning can allow students to move wherever they want.
Differentiation Model by C.A. Tomlinson
This blog is just a nugget of what you will learn in my OTIS for Educators course. It will be live on February 10, 2022 at 4 PM EST. However, if you can’t tune in live, it will be available afterwards as well! OTIS for Educators is free to register for, gives you CEUs, and offers courses on so many topics and platforms for educational technology!
I covered three of my favorite EdTech resources for differentiating instruction and I chat about many more in the course. But I’m curious–what are your favorite free websites, platforms, or apps for differentiating instruction?