The text "How to Use Technology for Differentiation and Delivering Small Group Instruction" before a photo fo a teacher using a laptop

Education is quickly changing, and teachers like you are finding new ways to reach your students. In particular, technology has become an increasingly important tool for supporting differentiation and small group learning. In many ways, technology can help educators more effectively and efficiently meet the individual needs of their students. Teacher-Author Della from Della Larsen’s Class even says, “Technology is the best way to differentiate.”

Given the continued importance of differentiation, we asked the TpT community for their best practices for using technology to support it. Here are their tips.

How to Use Technology to Make Differentiation More Efficient

Your time is limited, and small group and individual differentiation traditionally take a lot of time. However, teachers like you can apply a handful of tech tools to get more done in less time.

  • Easily modify assignments to fit student levels with Easel by TpT™. Using Easel’s digital annotation tools, you can easily prepare multiple interactive versions of the same resource to support the needs of individual students or groups. “[Teachers] can select different pages and customize directions to target learning experiences for specific learners,” explains Brenda Kovich. Learn more about how Easel by TpT works here.
  • Use ready-made resources to individualize instruction. Instead of spending time recreating the wheel, you can take advantage of so many resources on the web. For example, you can send different video mini-lessons to different students based on their levels. “Go online and pick specific videos already made for your class,” says Don from Mr D Math Class. Adds Belinda from BVG SLP, “There are a ton of great digital resources that are no-prep and ready to use with your students immediately.”
  • Assess student progress instantly. Tanya from Gifted Teacher 305 uses tools that provide real-time results, like polls and surveys as formative assessments. “[These tools] allow teachers to differentiate instantly, without the hassle of time-consuming activities like grading and disaggregating data,” she says. For example, teachers can use Google Forms to get instant feedback and respond to students’ individual learning needs.
  • Empower students to own their individual learning. Using technology to facilitate instruction makes it possible for students to learn asynchronously, completing assignments and projects at their own pace. Teacher Andrea realized that she could empower her students to own their own learning. “My students are capable of a lot more independent work than maybe I was giving them before. And it was just a matter of helping them come up with the structure for managing that.”

Additional Benefits of Using Digital Tools to Differentiate

Here are a few more ways you can take advantage of the added benefits of using digital tools to differentiate.

  • Easy, effective feedback. Digital tools can make it easier to share timely and effective feedback with students. Using Easel, for example, you can use text and pen tools to add comments and corrections to student work, then send it right back to your students online for revisions. Or with Google Docs and Google Slides, you can use the commenting feature to share notes with students. Explains Jenny from DiGiGoods and Printables ELA, “Written feedback is actually more effective because students can read it at their pace and absorb it in their own way. Students will forget what you say, making verbal feedback far less impactful, but written feedback stays put.”
  • Keep student levels confidential. Grow With Griffith – Rachel Griffith uses tech to make sure students aren’t self-conscious about their differentiated work levels. “You can assign students different lessons at varying levels without any embarrassment from others that they aren’t doing the same thing as them,” she says. Susan from Ms Cottons Corner adds, “Technology can help a teacher match the right product with a student, and can make that all invisible,” she says.
  • New ways to check for understanding over video. Providing instruction over video opens the door for new ways to check in with students during a lesson. For example, Jessica from The Resourceful Teacher uses Zoom breakout rooms to divide her class into small discussion groups. And when Angela from The Speech Serenade teaches small group activities, she asks students to respond in a private chat, where she can offer individualized instruction and cues. 

Tanya from Gifted Teacher 305 walks teachers through how she uses breakout rooms in Zoom to facilitate small group work virtually:

Using Easel by TpT’s digital tools to support more differentiation

With Easel’s suite of easy-to-use digital tools, you can add interactive elements, like fill-in-the blank answer boxes and movable pieces, to TpT resources or any PDF you own — or you can create your own interactive resource from scratch. Then, assign the resource and review student work, all from Easel.

Here are some ways you can use Easel Activities to support differentiation for your students:

  • Assign different versions of the same resource to different students or groups.
  • Use movable shapes to add digital manipulatives to a resource for students who could use additional scaffolding.
  • Remove pages of a resource that are above or below the level of the students you’re assigning it to.
  • Use highlighting and pen tools to clarify instructions for students who could use additional guidance.
  • Add stretch or bonus questions using the text annotation tools for early finishers.

Learn more about making your lessons interactive and device-ready with Easel by TpT.

Although a lot has changed in education, the importance of differentiation has remained a constant. In many ways, technology can be a helpful tool when differentiating instruction or providing small group learning. Ultimately, technology can help educators like you reach more of your students more efficiently and easily than before.

This post originally appeared in TpT’s Back to School 2020 Guide: For Teachers Creating Tomorrow