Differentiated Instruction: Responding to the Uniqueness of Every Student, Naturally
The most common challenge I have seen and experienced in teaching a second language is that of meeting the needs of students with many different levels of proficiency in one classroom. Some beginners, others intermediate and even some advanced learners all in one 45 minute class. Seems impossible? I discovered "differentiated instruction' one day when someone told me that was what I was doing in my flashcard game. I researched it and I have been hooked ever since. Many of us do it naturally at different points, but taking the time to read about and apply a differentiated learning approach can radically improve your students' learning experience. Below is a beautiful description from the article, Differentiated Instruction in the Foreign Language Classroom: Meeting the Diverse Needs of All Learners by Toni Theisen, which has a nice overview and great ideas for the classroom.
Differentiated instruction is a philosophy of teaching and learning which recognizes that each learner is unique. Rigorous, relevant, complex and flexible, differentiated instruction is a response to that uniqueness. Consequently, in a differentiated classroom, not every student is doing exactly the same thing in exactly the same way at exactly the same time. However, differentiated instruction is not merely a set of strategies and activities that challenges the learner in a variety of ways, but rather a belief system that proclaims that learners—with all their diversity—come to our classes with potential ready to be tapped. Differentiation is an effective way for teachers to offer meaningful instruction delivered around challenging content and designed to meet the needs of students at their appropriate levels and to help them achieve maximum growth (the Center for Advanced Student Learning, 2001)