Teaching to Children of Differing Abilities

“Meet the child where they are.” “Personalize your teaching to each child in your classroom.”  “Help each child push their  boundaries.” These statements or their many variations are sentiments that are expressed often to preschool teachers.  As educators, we are told that our instruction must be personalized to each child in our classroom despite the fact that the children all possess different strengths, weaknesses, and abilities.  It seems impossible, but it isn’t.  This blog post is aimed at giving you more insight into what is called differentiated instruction.

In producing this blog post I read numerous topics pertaining to the topic of differentiated instruction, but one stood out as especially effective at explaining the topic.  That article is titled: “Differentiating Instruction in the Preschool Classroom: Bridging Emergent Literacy Instruction and Developmentally Appropriate Practice” by Terri Prucell, Ph.D.  I thought the best way to explain differentiated instruction was to summarize Prucell’s article.  I hope you take time to read it!  Below is my synopsis.

What is differentiated instruction?

Prucell states the following: “Differentiated instruction is a philosophy of teaching and learning that recognizes and responds to student differences in readiness, interests, and learner profiles.”

In other words, differentiated instruction involves changing the process, environment, content and environment of a child’s education.

What do teachers who embrace differentiated instruction do differently than the average teacher?

Teachers who utilize differentiated instruction plan, instruct, and arrange the classroom environment in a way that embraces each child’s interests and needs.

To enact differentiated instruction, what do teachers need to know?

  • Where each child is developmentally
  • What are the developmental standards are for the age class they are teaching
  • What each child’s’ interests are
  • What excites each child
  • How to conduct Assessments and utilize them.

What is the purpose of assessments in differentiated instruction?

It is important to assess each child’s development according to a set of standards for their age. Assessing allows you learn where each child is in their development.  It also allows you to witness and track progress.

What are some tips for implementing differentiated instruction?

  • Utilize pre-activity assessments and post-activity assessments.
  • Teach in small groups.  The smaller the group the better, because it will allow you to tailor activities to meet the child’s interests and needs.  For example, you could be doing a developmentally appropriate art project with three of your children, while the other four children play at the sensory table.
  • Engage the children in active learning that fits their interests.
  • “Continually monitor progress and re-group children”
  • “Create a supportive environment that engages all learners”
  • “Plan and start slowly”
  • Communicate with other instructors about the development of children in your class. By doing this, you will make classroom transitions much smoother.

Here are some additional reading resources on differentiated instruction that are insightful for educators:


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