The Pros and Cons of Differentiated Instruction for Homeschooled Students

The Pros and Cons of Differentiated Learning
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One-on-one, individualized instruction is a homeschooling benefit often cited by home education advocates. In a classroom setting, this type of personalized instruction is known as differentiated instruction. It refers to the practice of modifying resources and instructional methods to meet the individual needs of a diverse group of learners.

Pros of Differentiated Instruction for Homeschooled Students

Differentiated instruction allows teachers to capitalize on the strengths and fortify the weaknesses of students. This fact makes differentiated instruction positive, overall. It is also relatively easy to implement in a homeschool setting where the student to teacher ratio is generally small.

Differentiated instruction provides a customized education.

An obvious benefit of differentiated learning is that it provides each student with a customized education tailored to his or her unique needs. 

You may have one child who excels with online video-based math instruction while another prefers a workbook with written directions and a variety of sample problems. One student may work best with hands-on, project-based exploration of subjects such as history and science while another prefers a textbook-style approach with a fill-in-the-blank workbook.

Because a parent is working directly with each child, homeschooling makes it easy to allow for each student’s preferences and learning needs.

Differentiated instruction allows students to learn at their own pace.

Differentiated instruction also allows each student to work at his or her own pace, making it ideal for advanced learners, struggling learners, and all types in between. Students don’t have to worry about working ahead of the class or falling behind because each student is his own class. 

Slower-paced learners can take their time working through each concept until they fully understand it without the stigma that is often associated with learning struggles in a classroom setting. Parents can easily make necessary modifications, such as reading directions aloud to a struggling reader, without negative perceptions.

Alternately, advanced learners can dig deeper into subjects that fascinate them or move quickly through the material without the boredom of pacing themselves with an entire class.

Cons of Differentiated Instruction for Homeschooled Students

While differentiated instruction is overwhelmingly positive, there could be some drawbacks for homeschooled students if parents don’t take care to avoid them.

Differentiated learning may lead to lack of experience with a variety of teaching styles and learning methods.

Although it is beneficial to be able to customize and tailor our students’ educations, homeschooling parents need to be sure that we’re providing opportunities for them to experience teaching styles and resources different than what they may prefer. We probably won’t always be our students' only instructor and we (or other instructors) won’t always be able to cater to their preferences.

A student with dyslexia may favor audio and video instruction. However, there are going to be many times in life when he’ll need to be able to read for learning so he needs to be comfortable doing so.

Most homeschool parents don’t teach in a lecture style, but students will need experience with that so that they will be prepared for college. Similarly, your hands-on learner may need practice taking notes from a textbook

Focusing exclusively on differentiated learning may cause students to miss out on the benefits of group projects/collaboration.

One-on-one instruction is an excellent option for meeting your homeschooled student's unique needs, but make sure that he doesn’t miss out on the benefits of group projects and collaboration. And, the learning experience that sometimes results when others in the group expect one or two members to do all of the work.

Look for opportunities to allow your student to work with others. You may consider a homeschool co-op or even a small co-op comprised of two or three families. These settings can be beneficial for working with a group for courses such as lab sciences or electives.

Some parents may be too quick to step in and rescue.

As homeschooling parents teaching our children in a primarily one-on-one setting, the urge to jump in and rescue our students when they don’t understand a concept or when they struggle with a task can be a disadvantage to differentiated learning. We may think that our kids need a different approach or curriculum rather than giving them time to work through the confusion.

Before changing methods or curriculum, consider why your child is struggling. Does he simply need a bit more time to understand the concept? Is it a readiness issue? Do you need to modify your curriculum slightly instead of changing curriculum altogether?

For most students, the benefits of differentiated learning far outweigh the cons, which can easily be overcome with a bit of planning and awareness of the potential pitfalls.