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.
- 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, rather than taking the time to micro-manage every student, she could empower them to manage themselves. “It made them feel like they were in charge of their day [. . .] 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.”
- Use ready-made resources to individualize instruction. When you go digital, you can take advantage of so many resources on the web, so you don’t need to spend time recreating the wheel. 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 and upload on Google Classroom,” says Don from Mr D Math Class. Additionally, Belinda from BVG SLP highlights the many ready-made digital resources on TpT: “There are a ton of great digital resources that are no-prep and ready to use with your students immediately.”
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. It’s easy to share feedback with students using the commenting feature on Google Docs and Google Slides. Explains Jenny from DiGiGoods and Printables ELA, “My feedback efficiency increased dramatically when I began doing this. It’s like you’re sitting right beside your students. [. . .] 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. Rachel from 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 also uses tools like Google Classroom to keep student levels confidential. “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:
Digital Tools That Can Help You Differentiate
What digital tools can you use to help you differentiate? Here are a few available on TpT.
- TpT Digital Activities. “Teachers can differentiate instruction by creating TpT Digital Activities. They can select different pages and customize directions to target learning experiences for specific learners,” explains Brenda Kovich. If a Teacher-Author has enabled their PDF resource to be used as a TpT Digital Activity, you can make it an interactive resource for students to complete on a device. Start by customizing the resource — with text, answer boxes, and more — and then assign it to students to complete online via Google Classroom or with a unique link you can send through your LMS.
- Online Resources of Google Apps. Google Docs, Google Slides, and Google Forms are foundational tools that many teachers are using to differentiate. “Using Google Classroom makes it really easy to still differentiate activities for your learners. [. . .] You can still reach the most fragile learners (or challenge those who need it) with activities that will support where they are,” explains Kathryn from Make Way for Tech. Find Online Resources for Google Apps on TpT by using the “Made for Google Apps” filter in your search.
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.