Differentiated Instruction in the Math Classroom

Differentiated Instruction in the Math Classroom

Differentiating in the math classroom is a must for teachers who want to engage their students and shift math learning from passive to active.  Gone are the days where the math teacher worked problems on a chalkboard in front of a class and the students watched from their rows of desks and then silently practised sample problems.  The age-old I-do, we-do, you-do is not enough to reach today’s learners.  Direct instruction leaves minimal room for differentiation, so in order to meet the needs of all learners consider constructing lessons that incorporate the following types of learning – and check out Study.com’s new differentiated instruction hub for a host of practical and useful resources for differentiating in schools.  Your students will thank you!



The long-standing question in the math classroom is: “When am I ever going to use this?”  And students are right to ask this question.  As teachers, if we’re not connecting the learning to practical applications, we’re only teaching part of math. Understanding math is more than crunching numbers to arrive at an answer.  It is crucial to engagement and comprehension that students understand the function, use, and purpose of math in order to attain success at higher levels of math.  Make math authentic by including real-world connections in your instruction.  For example, what careers are your students interested in pursuing?  Making math relevant to those careers is particularly authentic. Also, make learning meaningful to students by connecting to their interests outside of school.  Baseball stats or money are motivating and differentiating for some students.  Use this to your advantage.  Much of math is abstract; make it concrete for students by teaching the connections between math and our world.


Math isn’t seen as fun for many students because it’s not taught in a way that’s active.  Teacher instructs, models, and then students practice.  A more effective way to meet student needs is to have them collaborate and problem solve.  When introducing a new topic, put students into groups and encourage them to use what skills they already know to solve the problem.  When a group comes up with the answer, they can show their classmates the steps they took.  If no one is able to come up with the correct answer, use their methods to lead a class discussion about why none of the ideas worked.  Brainstorm what the next steps could be to solve.  When necessary, direct instruction can act as the key to unlock impediments to problem-solving.

Hands On

Math is all about numbers.  Getting students’ hands-on items that represent numbers is a great way to engage and differentiate for learners.  Physically manipulating items or arranging laminated numbers for a problem is a great way to help students think about math differently.  For some students, the concreteness of realia is what’s needed to make learning stick.  Seeing, holding, and manipulating numbers takes them off the page and engages a different type of learner.  Even foldables are effective for approaching math content in a more hands-on way.

Make your math instruction accessible and effective for all learners by differentiating.  Include authentic, active, and hands-on learning in your lessons to meet the needs of learners with different abilities, learning preferences, and backgrounds.

Check out the new differentiated instruction hub at Study.com for practical, useful ideas and resources. And as a little giveaway to our readers, if you like their stuff you can use the promo code StudyComTeacherDiffPromo to get 20% off the first three months of their teacher plan!

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