TEACHER CORNER | The impact of using differentiated instruction on learner achievement in mathematics

By Brenda M. Lañada

Mathematics has always been a challenging subject to teach, mostly due to its abstract and cumulative nature. The widespread perception that it is “difficult” also does not help in making it a popular academic subject.

Because of this, mathematics teachers are always on the lookout for teaching styles and strategies that will maximize learner achievement.

One way of maximizing learner achievement in mathematics is through differentiated instruction.

American professor Carol Ann Tomlinson defines differentiated instruction as the process of "ensuring that what a student learns, how he or she learns it, and how the student demonstrates what he or she has learned is a match for that student's readiness level, interests, and preferred mode of learning."

Teachers, Tomlinson offers, may differentiate through content, process, product, and learning environment.

This style of teaching is informed by the idea that learners have diverse learning styles. In other words, they grasp the learning material in different ways, depending on their level of ability.

Differentiated instruction, its proponents argue, is an effective way of reaching out to all of the members of a class, from those with high learning ability to those with learning disabilities.

An important part of differentiated instruction is assessment, or diagnosing, as it were, the strengths, weaknesses, and general ability of the learner.

This can be done through asking the students to use a journal as a tool to reflect on lessons, or interviewing the students to know their areas of difficulty as well as their interests.

Differentiated instruction may mean adjusting content, or the skills, ideas, and information imparted by the teacher; processes, or the exercises students accomplish to maximize comprehension and skill; and product, or the examinations and projects students complete to show how much they have learned.

For example, math teachers may opt to appeal to a range of learning styles by creating learning stations, each of which uses a unique method of teaching a skill or concept related to the lesson.

These learning stations may even target the different senses and interests of the students.

Personally, I have found that adjusting to the needs of the individual math learner has a tremendous impact on improving learning.

When compared to a one-size-fits-all approach that is far too common on classrooms these days, differentiated learning, especially in a challenging subject like mathematics makes learning engaging, fair, and flexible.

Whether we like it or not, math may always be that one subject that many perceive to be “hard.” However, we find allies in other educators, such as the proponents of Differentiated Instruction.

By adjusting to the interests, needs, and abilities of learners, we may be able to change this perception and turn math into a subject that not only is meaningful and fun, but also has the potential to be the favorite among learners.