So, you have one child that is a strong reader, another who struggles with understanding what they read, and a third who keeps themselves distracted throughout the entire lesson with miscellaneous things—like always needing to sharpen a pencil or ask questions not related to what you’re working on. When you’re working with different aged children in a home-schooling environment at different levels of learning, or you are teaching 25 students in a classroom—differentiated instruction helps you to tackle a lesson in multiple ways in order to meet the needs of your diverse students.
Carol Ann Tomlinson, an educator known for her work with differentiated instruction, explains that, “differentiation means tailoring instruction to meet individual needs. Whether teachers differentiate content, process, products, or the learning environment, the use of on-going assessment and flexible grouping makes this a successful approach to instruction.”
Why should we differentiate Learning?
Moosa Richardson stated in a lecture series called 30 Hadith on Raising Children—Advice to Parents and Educators that, “The educator should select his words carefully. He keeps in mind the level of understanding of the children he is addressing. The prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) used to take into account the level of the people he was addressing.” He used this as an example to explain how we should consider the level of the student when we are teaching them.
This is because differentiating learning amongst students is key for supporting the different ways that students learn and process information. If we can understand how an individual child learns, then we can create better chances for them to be provided with instruction that works in their favor.
Making instruction different to meet our students needs begins with us understanding which type of learner our students are. It can help us as a teacher or parent-educator know what to plan and how to plan. It doesn’t matter if we are teaching math, social studies, Arabic or Islamic studies. Differentiating learning works the same across all subject content areas and begins with us learning how our individual child processes information best. This is because all children learn differently.
How can we differentiate learning?
One student may need a visual example of a math problem worked out on the board, while another may need a catchy rhyme like “please excuse my dear aunt Sally” to help them remember the steps of how to solve an algebraic equation (PEMDAS). If a student is memorizing the Quran for example they may need to hear an auditory example of a Surah being recited in order to help them master Tajweed...while another may pick it up easily with a color-coded Quran. Everyone is different!
Even some students need physical movement. It may be easy for them to learn how to use vocabulary words in an English class by having them stand in a circle and toss a ball of yarn to each other. Every time a student catches a ball of yarn, they make a sentence using a word. You have a writer who dictates the sentences on the board for everyone. Then afterwards, everyone writes them down in a journal.
Providing different options for students to learn concepts in different ways can help you to identify how they are grasping content also. You can scaffold to adjust assignments when needed depending if a tasks is too easy or too hard for a student. You begin to learn what works based on their interest, cognitive levels, and abilities.
What is scaffolding?
Scaffolding is simply teaching lessons or concepts in different ways. You can scaffold by giving mini-lessons, modeling or demonstrating examples, describing concepts in multiple ways, incorporating visual aids like graphic organizers or charts, giving students talk time, allowing them opportunities to ask a variety of questions during lessons checking for understanding before-during-after an activity, activating prior knowledge, and front-loading concept-specific vocabulary.
How does this apply across curriculum?
Easily! As stated earlier differentiating learning works across all content areas and the same strategies can be applied in an English classroom as it can an Arabic one. You can use the same techniques to make learning meaningful, relevant, fun, and engaging. The key is to equip yourself with a basic understanding of things that can work for your students, whether they are getting instruction at home or in a classroom. It’s all about building the connections in learning and getting students to grasp what you’re teaching.