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Instructional Best Practices for Diverse Learners

The term "diverse learners" often refers to students with exceptionalities and English language learners. These groups alone represent a wide range of skills, abilities and backgrounds. A broader understanding of "diverse learners" also reflects characteristics such as linguistics, culture, ethnicity, race, gender and socioeconomics.

Earning a Master of Education (M.Ed.) can prepare educators to implement best practices in today's diverse classrooms. For instance, the online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction – Science Education program at The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) includes the course Advanced Teaching Models for Diverse Learners. This course looks at developing curriculum and learning experiences for diverse learners. Topics include differentiated instruction and culturally responsive teaching practices.

What Are 5 Strategies for Teaching Diverse Learners?

Following is a look at five best practices for developing instructional activities that meet the needs of the wide diversity of learners in your classroom.

1. Practical Accommodations

Individualized Education Programs and 504 plans ensure that educators meet the needs of students with disabilities. Yet, these documents can be overwhelming at first, especially for new teachers. Following are suggestions for planning instruction that work for all students.

  • Make "checking for understanding" a classroom routine when providing instructions. As they begin an assignment, check in with individuals and small groups, asking questions such as, "What do you need to do first?" and "What comes next?"
  • Provide access to notes for all students through Google Classroom or another classroom management tool.
  • Create flexible work areas to help meet a student's need to reduce distractions as well as offer spaces for group work.
2. Increase Accessibility

Today's students have grown up with technology. But, as the following examples show, technology-enhanced learning can help meet the needs of all students.

Listenwise: This platform features thousands of curriculum-aligned podcasts with scaffolded lessons to support differentiated instruction for ELLs. Science educators will find podcasts on topics as diverse as the science of stress, virus-detecting dogs and wildfires in the Arctic. Pairing audio with transcripts promotes comprehension at higher levels.

Flip: This popular video discussion platform includes features such as Closed Captions, Video with Text and Immersive Reader to help ensure an inclusive environment for diverse learners.

3. Culturally Responsive Teaching

Understood defines culturally responsive teaching as a research-based approach that "leverages students' assets — their cultures, languages, and life experiences — to create rigorous, student-centered instruction." Moreover, the National Science Teachers Association notes, "what makes these such effective strategies for the intended group also enhances learning opportunities for all."

Textbooks often lack representation of diverse groups, but science educators might use Flip's Guest Mode to bring outside experts into class discussions. With diverse representation, this approach can make learning more relevant and give all students a chance to see themselves as scientists.

4. Project-Based Learning

Differentiated instruction is key to meeting the needs of diverse learners. Project-based learning (PBL) is an effective way to differentiate learning in science or STEM classes.

PBLWorks defines project-based learning as "a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge."

Students can work in teams and individually throughout a class project. PBLWorks offers a library of projects such as "Ultimate Design Challenge," which engages students in using science and math concepts to redesign a product's packaging for sustainability. Teachers can also create their own projects.

5. Formative Assessment

Formative assessment drives differentiated instruction. Unlike summative assessments such as final exams and papers, the ongoing process of formative assessment helps identify where students are succeeding and where more instruction is needed. Examples include:

  • Use pre-assessments to check prior knowledge, then scaffold instruction accordingly.
  • Listen in as small groups work on an investigation or project.
  • Have students respond in writing or with drawings to questions such as "What was the most important idea in today's lesson, and why?" using the minute-paper approach.

If you are a teacher specializing in science education and want to develop the advanced knowledge and skills to help diverse learners thrive, UTA's M.Ed. in C&I – Science Education can help you get there. Building a foundation for best instructional practices ensures effective teaching for all your students.

Learn more about The University of Texas at Arlington's Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction – Science Education program.

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