Pros and Cons of Differentiated Teaching in School

Using Multiple Teaching Styles to Meet the Needs of Diverse Students

Differentiation is the educational practice of modifying or adapting instruction, school materials, subject content, class projects, and assessment methods to better 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. Instruction is adapted across subject areas to allow students to embrace the teaching method most appropriate to them. These include students with ​learning disabilities who might otherwise fall behind in a traditional classroom setting.

The Traditional Teaching Approach

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Traditional teaching methods were based on a model in which the teacher delivers instruction, typically through lecture, and then models the skill on a blackboard or overhead projector. When the teacher is finished, he or she will give the student practice work, usually from standardized textbooks or handouts.

The teacher would then proceed to review the students' work and evaluate his or her knowledge with a pencil and paper test. Afterward, the teacher would provide feedback, usually in the form of a grade.

While generations of Americans have received instruction in this way, modern educators recognize that the traditional style fails to meet the needs of diverse learners, including those with learning disabilities such as ​dyslexia, dyscalculia,​ and auditory processing disorder (APD).

Pros and Cons of Traditional Teaching

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The traditional method of teaching isn't entirely without value. The advantages of traditional methods include:

  • Teaching is uniform and consistent.
  • Subjects and skills are taught in a specific, cohesive order.
  • Teacher assessments are more straightforward.
  • School evaluation by school boards and departments of education are more easily performed.

The disadvantages of traditional teaching methods include:

  • The curriculum is inflexible as is the role of the teacher.
  • Uniformity means that systems are slow to change and less able to keep up with the students' needs.
  • Instruction focuses on memorization rather than higher-level thinking skills, placing students who struggle with memorization at a disadvantage.
  • The needs of students with diverse backgrounds and disabilities are rarely properly met.
  • It is based on a false assumption that children are all on a level playing field and that some are "meant" to fail.

The Differentiated Teaching Approach

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From the perspective of the individual student, few can argue that differentiated teaching doesn't have distinct advantages over traditional teaching.

The aim of differentiation is to employ a variety of teaching styles to ensure that students can approach learning in different ways but with the same or similar outcomes. Differentiation is meant to stimulate creativity by helping students make stronger connections, understand relationships, and grasp concepts in a more intuitive way.

Differentiated instruction can be used in any number of subject areas. It may involve:

  • Providing textbooks for visual and word learners
  • Providing auditory learners with audiobooks
  • Providing kinesthetic learners interactive assignment online
  • Providing tactile learners with multi-sensory teaching materials

Similarly, class assignments would be based on how the individual student approaches learning. Some might complete an assignment on paper or in pictures, while others may choose to give an oral report or create a three-dimensional diorama.

Differentiation can also alter how the classroom itself is organized. Students may be broken up into groups based on their approach to learning or be provided quiet spaces to study alone if they choose.

Pros and Cons of Differentiated Teaching

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While support for differentiated teaching is growing, it is not without its shortcomings and benefits. Among some of the key advantages:

  • Differentiation can be effective for both high-ability students and those with a disability.
  • Providing children options means that they take on more of the responsibility for learning themselves.
  • The engagement in learning tends to be stronger because it addresses the children as individuals with an equal opportunity for growth.

On the flip side, differentiated teaching has its limitations:

  • Differentiated teaching requires much more lesson-planning time for teachers who may already be strapped for time.
  • It may require more resources for a school or school district to implement.
  • Many schools lack the ​professional development resources to properly train faculty.
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