Teaching Tuesday: 3 Strategies to Support Diverse Learners

By Mirta Ramirez-Espinola, Ed.D, and Dr. Tracy Vasquez

Diverse learners hugging their teacher

Classroom teaching involves designing instructional activities which build on your students’ prior knowledge to progress content-based instruction from teacher facilitated guidance to student demonstration of learning.

As we prepare and teach our planned instruction we also consider opportunities for students to reflect and absorb the content. In doing so, we may find not all students are comprehending at the same rate. Some students may need additional scaffolds, and some students may need more challenging activities. Consider these three strategies as you design your own opportunities in the classroom to support diverse learners.

1. Talk It Out

Students love to talk! As a teacher you can incorporate this preference into your teaching strategy. Immediately after modeling a thinking strategy or steps to solving a problem, allow students to speak for two minutes about the content and the process used to support learning the content. This “dialogue time” between modeling and students working independently or in pairs allows students to “think aloud” to confirm and affirm their thinking. Some students need to verbalize to internalize.

Additionally, when students have completed group work or independent practice, they need a debrief “dialogue” for a couple of minutes and time to “wrap up” the content they addressed. This time to practice thinking and speaking skills builds critical thinking in all disciplines. For example, it can be used in social studies where students can talk about the assignment directions and the objective before working or after modeling how to create a lead in writing. Students can internalize and brainstorm what that writing process may look like for two minutes. Some students are verbal and need to “talk it out” before they begin working.

2. Provide a Lesson Sneak Peak

When we provide students with small bits of information in advance of a full lesson, we give them a sneak peak into future content learning. This gives students an opportunity to consider previous lessons or experiential connections before learning new information. This method of front-loading can provide support for all learners, especially those students who are ELLs or need additional help. It's also helpful to share a preview of the content students will learn the following week each Friday before dismissing for the weekend.

Technology can be a useful tool to provide information in advance of a lesson. We can provide a temporary media file, either audio or visual. Some of these resources or links can be a shorter version of similar content like a story or a story summary. On occasion we could show a graphic organizer with information completed for students to review. Alternatively, we may decide to have a sneak peak on essential vocabulary words or terms for students to review before the following week, or to show information with visuals like a task or index card. With technology, various applications can support front-loading, like Quizlet, Poll Everywhere, and Padlet, to name a few.

3. Extend the Learning

Enrichment is necessary, and as teachers we need to address the students who need support in deeper thinking opportunities when they master content. One idea is to create general task cards that elevate thinking about content when students complete their work and need to be challenged. There are resources online where STEM questions aligned to the higher order thinking skills of Bloom's Taxonomy. which we can pose to students who need more challenging activities about similar content.

For example, in some disciplines, questions can ask students to explain their thought processes in writing to build on their higher-order reflection skills. Students can create their questions on content and evaluate how their questions or responses are valid or necessary. Suppose our formative assessment data demonstrates there are a group of students that need enrichment. In that case, we have an opportunity to create a task for students to complete weekly that incorporates all disciplines engaging students in a thematic and cross-curricular assignment that elevates thinking.

This process is a differentiation of instruction, which we strive to do for all learners. The next time you are designing a lesson or unit of instruction, think about how you are differentiating so that all students are challenged at the appropriate level of instruction.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.