5 Ways to Differentiate Instruction for Math Skill Gaps

This blog post is all about how to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of all learners.

Welcome to Part 3 of our 3-Part Series on Math Skill Gaps.  Previously we addressed how to identify and address math skill gaps.  Now that you’ve identified the skill gaps and understand the principles of addressing them, how do we meet the needs of all of our learners?  With so many unique needs in one classroom, we need to differentiate instruction and practice opportunities to help all students be successful.  Read on for actionable strategies that can transform the way you teach!


Level Up

When you know which students need help on which topics, the hard part is done!  Choose one topic to focus on for a class period.  The students who need support on that topic get one version of practice.  The activity should focus on the one particular skill because practice makes perfect permanent!  We’re not aiming for perfection.  We are looking for improvement and fluency.  Having the answer key available can help students check their work along the way to make sure they are on the right track.  My students have really enjoyed activities in particular when they can scan a QR code to ensure they are correct before moving on.  The other students should still continue to practice with the same skill but in a more challenging way.  Time for them to level up!  Increase the intensity of the worksheet by providing tougher problems, higher order thinking questions, or real-world applications.

This image shows how to differentiate based on math skill level.


Meet (w/ 6 feet)

Meeting in small groups is going to be tricky this year.  If you have the space and the ability to meet with students in a social-distanced fashion, then plan lessons where you can focus on working with a few select students while the rest of the class is working independently.  Note that this will take lots of practice with set expectations in order for students to focus on their own.  Make sure your expectations are clear and high so students will understand exactly what they should be doing.  If you are lucky enough to have a co-teacher or paraprofessional, they can help run the large group.  While the larger group is working, you can provide individualized support to remediate the skill gaps you previously identified.  Demonstrate the skill.  Then have students practice in front of you so you can provide immediate feedback to get them on track.


Teachers can still meet with small groups of students either remotely or while staying six feet apart.

Check it Off

For progress to occur, it’s really important for students to take ownership of their learning.  Checklists are great way to put some of the responsibility on your students.  Give students a checklist of skills to practice.  This list could be generic or you could be really fancy and give each student a specific list based on previous pre-assessments.  They can progress at their own pace and check off each skill once they’ve mastered it.  There are lots of places to find worksheets that students can use to practice.  Kuta Software is a free one that I’ve often used.  Set up a crate with file folders for each skill so students can self-select what they need to work on next.


This or That?

Choice is a resounding theme here because it helps so much with student buy-in and motivation.  This or That? is a low-prep alternative to skills practice.  Prepare two topics of practice activities, and give students the choice of which they’d like to practice.  This may be a good place to start if you are new to differentiating skills practice.  Focus on one level of practice with two unique topics.  All students will work towards the goal of mastery on the topic of their choice.  Tying into previous ideas, it could be based off their checklist of skills they are working on.  Prompt students to select the topic that they are less comfortable with so that they can increase fluency.  While students are working independently, this is also a good time to pull small groups or check-in one-on-one with students who you have identified as needing extra help based on pre-assessments.


Reflect and Correct

Oh, I love a good reflection.  Give students time to ponder their strengths and weaknesses and opportunities to correct their work.  Learning is a process and very few formative assessments need to be finite.  Students could write a sentence describing errors for each incorrect answers or jot down some general strengths and challenges.  Either way, it is very important to develop a routine that doesn’t allow students to just tuck away their paper – never to be considered again.  I like to use a checklist style reflection where students identify simple mistakes versus conceptual misunderstandings.  Get the evaluation form here.  How is this a differentiation strategy?  Students focus on redoing their incorrect answers – which are unique to them – opposed to everyone working on retaking the same quiz again.

Download this free Quiz Evaluation to facilitate student ownership over their own work.


Thank you for checking out our 3-part series on skill gaps.  We focused on how to identify, address, and differentiate for skill gaps.  What else are you curious about?  Drop a comment below.


Check out these related posts:

5 tips & tools for identifying math skill gaps5 principles for address math skill gaps

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