Select Page

Using open educational resources to empower differentiated instruction

Discover how open educational resources can help teachers with differentiated instruction for students to improve learning outcomes and engagement.
Using open educational resources to empower differentiated instruction
Using open educational resources to empower differentiated instruction

Open educational resources, also known as OER, provide a great way to supplement curriculum to differentiate instruction and better meet each learner’s needs in your classroom. Hāpara built itself upon a robust pedagogical foundation that is designed to support differentiated instruction. So what does that mean?

What is differentiation?

Differentiation is the adjustment of teaching methodologies, instructional materials, the classroom environment, means of assessment, and content to match the interests and needs of learners to achieve the targeted learning outcomes. The belief around using differentiation is that students will be more likely to achieve the desired learning outcomes when they experience learning in a way that better matches their interests and needs. In addition, it’s believed that when teachers understand and address these needs, students are more engaged and more likely to persist when learning gets challenging. 

To make these ideas a bit more practical, let’s take a look at some use cases that center on the need to differentiate content and how OER helps practically address these challenges without additional costs.  

Addressing reading levels

Imagine addressing one or more standards related to reading. Typically students within any class will have a range of reading levels appropriate for them. For example, a traditional anthology of literature might provide vocabulary far above the current reading level of one or more students. For others, the reading level might be too easy and not challenging enough. This scenario is pretty common for educators, but remains an obstacle when equally distributing resources. Sometimes it is easy to find a different book that will address the same standard, and other times it can be harder, especially if it is within a genre like poetry. 

This use case is the perfect example of when OER can come to the rescue. Teachers can search for content aligned to the standard created at the reading level needed and provided at no cost by using a resource like OER Commons. Finding resources to address a variety of interests can be difficult, but the effort is very rewarding when it comes to student comprehension and engagement. 

Addressing connections to the world outside the classroom

When thinking about differentiation, OER can be valuable content for students who have interests not represented in a traditional textbook or those most engaged when they see real-world connections. For example, in an analysis of 8th-grade math exercises from textbooks, about half of one percent of all the problems “dealt with higher-order, real-world applications of math.” Let that sink in for a moment. If that data, which includes analysis of content from the United States, is consistent across all grade levels, we have an important need to address: the relevance of content. In other words, it would come as no surprise that students become less engaged with math, in this case, over time, if and when they don’t have a vision for how or why the problems they are assigned matter to them. 

Leveraging differentiation and OER makes for a powerful combination that connects the needs and interests of students with relevant resources. This union can go a long way in helping create the conditions for success for every student. However, actualizing this vision will likely require curating resources from more than one source. OER providers such as Fishtank are an additional example of a high-quality resource provider. Other characteristics of these providers include resources that demonstrate quality and complexity in the text. They are also aligned to standards while building knowledge, skills and an understanding that leads to outcomes. High-quality OERs also support a range of learners, a key in differentiating the content to meet the needs of your students.

Addressing context

An additional way that OER can facilitate differentiation is by customizing these digital resources to meet the needs of your local context. For example, a traditional history textbook usually has content written about regions that have large populations. However, these textbooks often are void of regional information about those areas with smaller populations or cultures that aren’t part of the majority. Once again, OER can be a great way to find content that meets your context and provide multiple representations of knowledge within your context to provide effective differentiated learning opportunities. An important characteristic of OER, where a matching Creative Commons license applies, is the ability to revise and remix content. This feature is essential because, while it would be amazing to have a set of OER perfectly aligned to match the needs of your students, there will be times when you may need to add your own content or combine content from different sources. 

Using OER also addresses a pressing reality connected to differentiation. According to a new study published by EdReports, “Less than 25% of teachers describe their curriculum as adequate or completely adequate in meeting the needs of multilingual learners or in supporting them to provide culturally relevant instruction.” The needs identified in these findings highlight the demand to find additional resources to meet the diverse needs found in our classrooms and a tool that makes sharing differentiated content, including OER, accessible both during planning and teaching.


There are a few tips to help the ideas and recommendations come to life:

  1. Differentiation is a journey, not a destination. If the ideas here are not part of your existing practice, try providing differentiated content for your students for just one lesson, unit, or project instead of resolving to overhaul your entire curriculum all at once. 
  2. Gather formative feedback from your learners to identify the content that they think would be most helpful for you to differentiate for them.
  3. Identify trends in learning outcomes and address those needs first with one lesson or unit of study. For example, if you notice students are disengaged or struggle with concepts early within a unit, make a change and try using differentiated instruction that leverages OER.
  4. Once you have tried these ideas, take time to reflect. Ask yourself: what went well and what was challenging for you and your students? What small next steps can you take to move this practice forward sustainably?
  5. Find a buddy or community of practice to share your learnings and challenges as well as ask for and receive feedback related to using these ideas so that you can make improvements. Not sure where to start? Consider joining the Hāpara Community, where a supportive group of educators share ideas and support one another.

Discover more about how Hāpara can help you and your students achieve effective differentiated learning with open educational resources.

Explore why educators are reviving the #GoOpen initiative to increase access to free high-quality learning materials.

The GoOpen initiative ebook

About the Author

You Might Also Enjoy

Pin It on Pinterest