When you teach math to an elementary class, you'll have students at all different levels--especially with a skill like long division or using the metric system. Differentiation is a way to reach students at their level, and it's not as hard or time consuming as you might think.
Introduction and pretest
Differentiated instruction in mathematics is one of the best ways to teach students who are working at all different levels. In the same elementary classroom, you may have students who are still learning their division facts and others who have mastered a problem like 123 divided by 3. You can take almost any unit and create differentiated instruction lesson plans for math.
First, look at your objectives for the unit. What should students be able to do by the end of the unit? For example in long division, students must be able to divide by a two-digit number (some problems will have a remainder) and check their answer using multiplication. The next step in differentiated instruction in mathematics is to design a pretest for all students to assess their skills. On this test, you may have basic skills like division facts, easier problems such as one-digit numbers divided into three-digit numbers, and then the new skill that you will be teaching. It helps to explain to students that they will not be graded on this pretest, but you will use it to see how much they already know about the new unit.
Groups and Instruction
The next step in differentiated instruction in mathematics is to grade the pretest and put students into groups based on their ability level for this unit only. A child who is already proficient in long division may not have much knowledge of the metric system, and so groups need to be based on each individual pretest with differentiated instruction lesson plans for math.
Decide how many groups you can realistically handle during one class period and one week's schedule. A good number to start with is three. You can also team teach with another teacher in your grade or building who also wants to do differentiated instruction in mathematics. For example, one teacher may take a group of students who are struggling while the other teacher teaches the students in the average and high ability groups.
Create a schedule to handle the groups as well as a plan for how you will get each group to master the objectives. For the students who are working above grade level, how will you challenge them while they maintain the skills they already mastered? Remember with differentiated instruction in mathematics, you don't just want to give bright students extra work. Often times, math series will give tips for remedial students and also offer enrichment activities. You can use both of these resources when differentiating.You can also turn to the Internet for ideas--computer games or math practice sites--as well as thinking about real world problems where the math skill is used.
Teachers who want to use differentiated instruction in mathematics often ask how to keep other students occupied while instructing another group. Students who are not receiving direct instruction can work on individual practice, use flash cards to master basic facts, play a math computer game, peer teach another student, or work on individual or group projects.
Teachers also want to know how much extra time differentiation takes. There's no set answer. It does take longer to prepare than traditional teaching methods, but it is also better for students learning at all levels.