Students differ mathematically. The difference between students’ mathematical abilities is an issue that we must face as teachers. Some believe that a differentiated instruction environment can be the solution, and I agree. As teachers, we need to support all students, especially those who need additional help. We need to promote the best teaching and learning in mathematics.
In order to meet each student’s needs, we need to “provide tasks within each student’s zone of proximal development and to ensure that each student in the class has the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the class community of learners” (Why and How to Differentiate Math Instruction, p2). Instruction within the zone of proximal development utilizes instruction effectively because it helps students to obtain new ideas that are beyond what they already know but within their reach. We can determine what the zone is by using prior assessment information. To effectively differentiate instruction, we need to focus on the big ideas, use prior assessment to determine the instructional direction and needs of different students, as well as provide appropriate choices for students.
There are two core strategies for differentiating mathematical instruction: open questions and parallel tasks. Asking open questions can encourage students to have variety of responses or approaches. An open question should be mathematically meaningful. It can also enrich a mathematical conversation, because every student will be able to contribute and gain from the discussion. Open questions can also provide opportunity for teachers to help students see that mathematics is multifaceted. Parallel tasks are sets of tasks, “which are designed to meet the needs of students at different developmental levels” (Why and How to Differentiate Math Instruction, p11). When developing open questions and parallel tasks, we need to keep in mind that they should be created in such a way that all students can participate in follow-up discussions.