The Benefits of Differentiated Instruction for Diverse Learners

Why traditional teaching methods sometimes fall short

Differentiation is the practice of modifying and adapting instruction, materials, content, student projects, products and assessment to meet the needs of diverse learners. In a differentiated classroom, teachers recognize that all students are different and require varied teaching methods to be successful in school. Instruction is adapted across subject areas to meet the needs of the wide range of students in 21st-century classrooms.

Learn more about differentiated instruction, how it differs from traditional teaching methods, and how it can be used to help your child with learning disabilities at home and at school.

Traditional Teaching Methods Were Historically Fixed and Inflexible

An elementary teacher works with a tablet computer.
An elementary teacher works with a tablet computer. Hero Images/Getty Images

Traditional teaching methods were based on a model in which the teacher delivers instruction, typically through lecture, and then models the skill, often on a blackboard or overhead projector.

When the teacher stops modeling the lesson, she gives the student practice work, usually in workbooks or on handouts.

The teacher proceeds to review the students' work and tests the group using a pencil and paper test. Afterward, the teacher provides feedback on the performance of the class, usually in the form of a grade for the work and marks on items missed.

While generations of Americans received instruction this way, 21st-century educators recognize that the traditional style fails to meet the needs of diverse learners, including students with learning disabilities.

Traditional Methods Had Advantages and Disadvantages

The traditional method of teaching wasn't entirely without value. Advantages of traditional methods included that they were uniform and consistent. Moreover, subjects and skills were taught in a specific order that changed little, and instruction adequately met the needs of about half of students in a classroom.

The disadvantages of traditional methods were that they were inflexible, and students with diverse backgrounds and disabilities often did not respond well to this delivery.

The subject matter was not upgraded quickly enough to keep students' skills and general knowledge current, and instruction focused on memorization more than on higher-level thinking skills, such as analytical ability. Students who struggled to memorize concepts were at a distinct disadvantage.

Advantages of Differentiation

Differentiated instruction has many advantages over traditional teaching methods. For one, it meets the needs of diverse students with a variety of learning styles.

It also accommodates students with learning disabilities and other types of disabilities.

Students from different cultures, such as English language learners, benefit from differentiated instruction as well.

Such instruction is said to stimulate creativity and help students understand ideas at higher levels of thinking than teaching through rote memorization alone.

Differentiated Instruction Strategies

Differentiated instruction can be used in a number of subject areas. Language arts teachers can use tips and strategies to adapt reading materials for diverse learners. Math instruction can be adapted for such learners as well.

In addition to using differentiated instruction for a range of subject areas, the method can be used to appeal to children with different learning styles. Multi-sensory teaching materials and strategies can help students who are tactile learners, visual learners, auditory learners and more.

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