Why differentiation of instruction makes you a rockstar in the math classroom

picture of teacher using differentiation of instruction like a rockstar
Teach differentiation of instruction like a rockstar!

Why differentiation of instruction is essential to student success

Speaking of Differentiation, Scoot is a great way to do that!

Take the FREE 5 Day Scoot Challenge! Inside this challenge, you get a FREE Scoot to try, along with 5 days worth of activities to do with one resource. Ready to check it out?

CLICK HERE for all the value you can possibly get out of a single resource!

Which one of these is you? 


The distracted student 

During the lesson, your brain is working overtime, trying to connect what is being said to what you already know. As you’re trying to think, you hear a constant buzzing in your ear that drowns out parts of what the teacher is saying. By the time you’ve started piecing the information together, the lesson is over. You raise your hand like you do at the end of every lesson and the teacher calls on you to ask your question. After you’ve asked it, the teacher goes on to explain the very same thing in the same way. Already feeling insecure, you simply nod your head, even though you’re still clueless.

You’re given an assignment with no pictures that is very difficult to read. As you look at the directions, that buzzing comes back and you’re having a hard time making sense of what you’re supposed to do. You don’t want to bother the teacher so you look at your friend’s paper, trying to understand. Ultimately, you give up and just stare blankly at the page.

The hard-working student

You know exactly what the teacher is talking about during every lesson. You complete every assignment and occasionally make mistakes. You’re shy, so you don’t really like to speak up in class. The teacher calls on students who always raise their hands. You know the answer, but you don’t want to say it in front of the class.

You sit down at your desk to do the worksheet and have a little trouble. The teacher is busy helping the students who don’t understand and you don’t want to be a bother. You ask a friend for help and figure it out on your own. When the teacher sees it, you get a “great work friend!” so you know you’re on the right track. Still you wish the teacher had more time to spend with you.

The advanced student

You know everything the teacher is talking about in the lesson. You can apply that knowledge and in your free time, you always like to create projects based on what you’ve learned. Every question the teacher asks, you know the answer. You feel like everything is review.

You sit down at your desk and finish your assignment before everyone else. You always speed through your work so that you can free write, read books on your level, create math problems, and stretch your mind. You wish the teacher would give you more to do.

How image of how to do differentiation of instruction
How do you do differentiation of instruction?

The question

How can we as teachers truly see each of these students individually while teaching them everything they need to learn? There just aren’t enough hours in the day! The answer…differentiation of instruction.

A study published by Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences found that students’ learning outcomes significantly improve when teachers use differentiated content that responds to a student’s learning preferences. Students are also more likely to focus and be engaged in the learning process when teachers differentiate their instructional strategies. As you provide opportunities for students to explore content based on their strengths, they’re more likely to flourish in your class. (Waterford.org)

What differentiation in the math classroom looks like

So now you may be asking yourself, or me, what differentiation in the math classroom looks like. ASCD outlines it perfectly. Differentiated instruction is:

  1. Proactive
  2. Qualitative
  3. Assessment-based
  4. Dynamic
  5. Student-centered

What’s the best way to be proactive? Why it’s elementary my dear! You have to pre-assess.

Setting classroom goals with pre-assessment

So now that you know the what and the why, let’s dive into how. You have probably heard the term pre-assess 1 or 100,000 times! So here’s how to keep it simple. Play games with your kiddos. There’s a whoppin’ ton of research on why this is an effective way to assess so CLICK HERE to read more on that.

If you are already familiar, 50 gold stars for you! Let’s do this.

Getting started with games for elementary data

You can use games for elementary data in two different ways. First, use them as a formative assessment to casually explore what your students already know or don’t know. Take notes in a notebook or you can use our made-for-you data collection template! 

We’ve included this made-for-you data collection template in our FREE 5 Day Scoot Challenge. Inside this challenge, you get a FREE Scoot to try, along with 5 days worth of activities to do with one resource. Ready to check it out?

CLICK HERE for all the value you can possibly get out of a single resource!

The second way to use games is as a more formal assessment. When you play Scoot, students fill in a recording sheet and BOOM, instant assessment!

Let go of the idea that assessments need to be given all at once as a “test” or graded as projects/presentations. Embrace the idea of floating and observing. Our simple data sheet makes it a no-brainer for you to wander around and observe your students individually, while the whole class is learning at the same time.

Our FREE 5 Day Scoot Challenge includes 5 different games to play with your task cards, including Scoot. CLICK HERE to get started!

kids playing math scoot game
Pre-assess with this fun and active learning game.

Brilliant differentiation strategies in the classroom to step up your students’ results

Learning Centers are perfect strategies for independent learning

Differentiation of instruction is student-centered, dynamic, and qualitative, right? What’s the easiest way to accomplish that for all your students at once? Learning centers!

Now you may have heard of centers so that students can be occupied with a non-essential task while you do guided reading, math, etc. But, what if I told you that ALL your students can be learning at the same time while you do your guided center, or you can have all students working independently while you float and advise? That’s the dream, right?!

How to set up learning centers.

This fabulous article from Teachervision.com shows three different types of learning centers:

Enrichment centers take learning further

This type of center is typically used to accompany a Science or Social Studies unit and provides a hands-on opportunity to explore the topic. In setting this center up, you might think of three choices for your students that utilize different modalities. This center would stay up for your entire unit, not be switched out each day or week. 

For example, say you have a Community Helpers unit, you can

  • Have students try out different tools that community helpers use, then do a tool match to each community helper
  • Have students write a song, poem, or draw a picture of their favorite Community Helper
  • Have students play charades using community helper vocabulary cards.
fun community helpers activities
Students love doing these fun activities for community helpers!

All of these resources are provided in our Community Helpers unit.

Hey isn’t this supposed to be about math?

You’re right! And what better way to make math time more effective than to also use it as a time to enrich Social Studies or Science, for which you have so little time to begin with. *wink*

Skill centers practice the basics

These centers are just as they seem. Use them after presenting a math skill to reinforce student learning. These centers would be switched out as needed for skill practice.

The trick is to provide different activities here as well. Use your preassessment data to determine which skills each student needs to practice and assign them a task from there.

An easy and fun way to do this is with task cards. Since they come with a recording sheet, you can continue to monitor student progress. Since they come with an answer sheet, you can have students check themselves or one another.

Our amazing Scoot bundles come with task cards and manipulatives for your tactile learners! These are absolutely perfect for differentiating. Bonus, each bundle comes with different levels of games for a wide range of strategies for independent learning.

For missing numbers: Monster Scoot Bundle

For addition and subtraction: Snowmen Math Bundle

For place value: Place Value Train Bundle

Take the FREE 5 Day Scoot Challenge! Inside this challenge, you get a FREE Scoot to try, along with 5 days worth of activities to do with one resource. Ready to check it out?

CLICK HERE for all the value you can possibly get out of a single resource!

Interest and Exploratory centers are all about your students

Provide some open options for students to choose from that just help them experience their learning. This can be sensory play related to a unit or engineering with legos. Students can make designs with tangrams or simply draw.

Each of these types of centers have a valuable place and purpose in your classroom. Try to incorporate all of them and see how your students thrive!

Guided learning centers are an instant solution to differentiation for diverse learners

This is where you, the teacher, guide the group. In math, the best part of these groups is that you can group students according to their needs. As I mentioned before, use a game to preassess. 

When Pam’s students were getting ready to do their unit on money, they played Money Scoot,  and she collected the recording sheets. She was able to see where all the students were in their knowledge of money. She created an active learning strategy for each math group based on their skill set. 

money math books
These math books make great differentiation tools in money math centers.

Some students didn’t recognize coins, so they worked with coin manipulatives and matched them to pictures in books that are in our math bundle, which includes the money scoot.

Here are some other coin books to explore:

picture of money math centers
Money math centers are a great way for differentiation of instruction in the classroom!

Some students were ready to count coins, so they used the coin manipulatives and the coin chart to begin counting. This chart is also in the bundle. You can also have students lay coins on a whiteboard and write the amounts as they count.

For your advanced students

You may have students that excel at counting coins and adding money. That’s where application comes in. You can have them to an enrichment center set up like a store, or maybe have them create a business! Utilize word problems that give real-world context to what they are learning.

Here are some sample word problems:

  • “If you give a clerk $1.00 for a piece of candy that is $.52, how much money do you get back?”
  • “How many quarters make $1.50?”
  • “What coins would you use to make an amount of money equal to 1 quarter?”

These guided math groups have provided students with essential differentiation methods in the classroom. The key is to always be pre-assessing to see where students are and creating groups based on the results. 


Feel free to share all your differentiation wins in the comments below.

Have an amazing week differentiating!

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