Differentiated instruction is a must-have skill for all teachers, but it can be tricky to master. I remember when my district supervisor came in and asked what weaknesses I had – naturally, the first thing that popped into my mind was differentiating instruction! Fortunately though, she watched one of my lessons and said everything was up to standard after seeing how effectively I’d grouped students by ability level.

Struggling with differentiating instruction in your Math class? Learn how you can group students by ability level and make teaching easier.

Differentiated instruction simply means adapting your teaching methods to meet the needs of all learners in your classroom. This can be done in a number of ways, but grouping students by ability level is one of the most effective methods. Grouping isn’t always easy or straightforward -I use 4 distinct groups: high/high-medium/low-medium/ low – with movement between them being pretty fluid; meaning no kid has their place completely sealed off so they can become more challenged if needed!

Differentiating Instruction in Your Classroom

There are a number of ways you can differentiate instruction in your classroom, but grouping students by ability level is one of the most effective methods. When grouping students, it’s important to use a fluid system so that no child is locked into one group. I use four distinct groups in my classroom: high/high-medium/low-medium/low. This allows me to challenge all learners, while still providing support to those who need it.

Here are some tips for grouping students effectively:

  1. Get to know your students well. This will help you understand their strengths and weaknesses so you can group them accordingly.
  2. Use a variety of assessments to gather data on student learning. This data will be invaluable when making decisions about grouping.
  3. Be flexible with your groups. Students’ needs change over time, so it’s important to be able to adjust accordingly.
  4. Communicate with parents about your differentiation plans. They’ll be more likely to support your efforts if they understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
    5.’t forget to differentiating content, process, and product! All three are important factors in student learning.

I sort my kids into 4 groups. These groups have very easily fluctuated. They do not stay in this group forever and I make it well known that they could move groups very quickly. The 4 math groups that I have are high, high-medium, low-medium, and low. I know it’s riveting!! It is actually very helpful and is one of my favorite methods to use while grouping.

Why did I tell you this? This is how I sort my kids. If my students tested low at the beginning of the year, I would place them in a specific group. So let’s start with my “class” and I say it is a quotation mark because they are not my real kids.  There are ten math problems that fall under Units 1-3. If you are a standards-based school, you will want to combine all of the standards that would fall under your first unit.
Let’s look at the 10 questions and break them up…

  • High- 8-10 questions answered correctly would fall in the high group. (Should be 80% or higher)
  • High-Medium- 5-7 questions answered correctly would fall in the high-medium group. (50%-79%)
  • Low-Medium- 3-4 questions answered correctly would fall in the low-medium group. (30%-49%)
  • Low- 1-2 questions answered correctly would fall in the low group. (1-29%)

Obviously, you will alter your numbers based on the numbers that cover the specific skill/standard.
I really try to keep the groups small however I only have four groups. This year I have 24 kids so sorting them means each group has 6… but sometimes I have more than 6 in a group.

Struggling with differentiating instruction in your Math class? Learn how you can group students by ability level and make teaching easier.
How to Effectively Group Students by Ability Level

How do I overcome that?

I look at the assessment as a whole. I look to see did they struggle as a whole on the assessment? Should they be in a higher group? A lower group?

Differentiated instruction is a vital skill for all teachers, but it can be tricky to master. By following the tips outlined in this blog post, you’ll be well on your way to differentiating instruction effectively in your classroom!

Remember, you are a teacher. You know if a kid would be a low kid, a medium kid, or a high kid. Make the decision for your kids and listen if they are in too high of a group, move their group.
You can grab all of my Guided Math Units here. You can also read all about different blog posts about math here!

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