A Common Sense Approach to Learning


As today’s classrooms become increasingly more diverse, teachers must strategically plan instruction that complements the learning needs of these students. Teachers must differentiate their instruction to ensure that every student has access to learning. Teachers’ expectations must be high for all students including those who are struggling with language or disabilities. Moreover, accommodations must also be made for those students that need to be challenged with enriching activities and projects.

Differentiating instruction can be time-consuming and laborious. It is understandable that it is sometimes difficult and even frustrating to plan activities for the diverse student populations in the classroom. However, there are many resources on the web today that provide easy access to strategies and tools for facilitating differentiation. I have used the following FREE resources in my own classroom with much success. These wonderful resources can facilitate the planning of differentiated learning activities for ELLs and students with disabilities. All teachers need to do is create an account:

  • News Ela– is a wonderful website that provides access to high interest, standards based, thought-provoking nonfiction articles that can be accessed at five different levels. Students are able to annotate the articles and respond to critical thinking questions in writing. Using such a website allows students to read about the same topic but with different levels of difficulty. This way students are not frustrated but rather motivated to contribute to the discussion.
  • Read Works– is another wonderful website that provides access to high interest fiction and nonfiction articles organized by Lexile levels for grades K to 12. Every article also comes with high-order questions to assess comprehension. The site is especially useful for ELLs as it promotes vocabulary development.
  • Learn Zillion– is a fabulous website that provides 3-5 minute video lessons in literacy and math, downloadable slides, and other resources for practice. All lessons and other resources are easy to follow and aligned to the Common Core Standards. Teachers can utilize the clips to help students practice a skill, to understand a challenging concept, and to develop interest as the interactive video clips are engaging and complement the needs of visual learners.
  • Dare to Differentiate Wiki– is a great Wiki with a plethora of already made differentiated activities and resources for teachers to access and use with their struggling students as well as with students that need to be challenged.
  • The Learning Leader– this is a link to a page on a Wiki I created which provides more resources for differentiating lessons.
  • Web 2.0: Cool Tools For Schools – this site provides an extensive compilation of online resources and devices for differentiating learning using technology.
  • Reading Comprehension and Fluency for ELLs– this is a page on Colorin Colorado, an excellent website with a plethora of resources especially for ELLs. This pages provides great ideas for differentiating literacy instruction for English language learners.
  • Share My Lesson – this website provides many lessons with differentiated ideas and strategies for grades k to 5. Search by grade and curricular area.

This post on Edutopia provides many more tools for differentiating instruction using social media.

Including Choice:

The important idea behind differentiation is the inclusion of choice to accommodate a wide range of learning modalities. One effective way in creating choice driven tasks is through the use of learning menus. Learning menus are constructed with the same concept as the menus used in restaurants with appetizer, main course, and dessert components. The point is to allow students options when selecting an appropriate task from each category without imposing the one size fits all idea. Here’s a learning menu I created for Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco.

learning menu.jpg

Differentiating with Learning Menus from the Teaching Channel shows how the learning menus are successfully implemented in a 7th grade social studies classroom.  Here’s another way of using menus to promote independence while assessing and differentiating student learning.

If teachers put differentiation in the forefront when planning their lessons they will ensure that equitable accessibility to learning and assessment among all students. Here’s an example of an upper grades lesson plan  that is differentiated for all learners. Again, differentiation is by no means an easy task. It takes a lot of thinking, creativity and planning. All great teaching takes planning time and investment. But ultimately the noticeable results on students’ learning and growth will be well worth it.


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