Differentiation in the Science Classroom #1: In the Lab


Helping all students, including students with special needs and English language learners, in high school science classroom is a challenge.  In this blog series, I will focus on a few different techniques that teachers can use to help each and every student in their class succeed.  Some of these techniques can also help other students succeed who are not classified as having special needs.  Differentiation doesn’t mean teaching separate lessons to separate students in your class.  Differentiation means adjusting your materials, your instructions, or your methods to make your classroom as inclusive as you can.  It means doing your best to make sure each of your students succeeds in your classroom.


In this entry, I’ll focus on how to help students with special needs in lab.


I never attended education school.   I got certified through an alternate route program in New Jerseys, but I took some night school education courses when I just became a teacher.  One of the things my night school teacher stressed was modeling.  And he was so right.  Don’t tell.  Show.  Show EVERYTHING!


Model everything.  And I mean everything.  Don’t expect your students to follow a set of directions.  Help students with reading difficulties by reading the instructions aloud, step-by-step, and do the whole procedure with them.  One of the things I learned in night school was to never ask students to read directions aloud.  You never know which of your students struggles with this.  Why embarrass them in front of their peers?  You read the directions.


When it comes to lab procedures, be very specific and if you can, perform the whole entire procedure in front of the class before they go to the lab benches to do it themselves.  Read the directions out loud AND write them on the board.  Have them also printed in front of them, ideally with pictures of what everything should look like.  Having pictures of the procedure will greatly help students who struggle with the English language.  Having pictures can help everyone succeed!


To help all of your students succeed, have a table preprinted for students to write their data in during data collection.  Title the table together and go over what labels go where on the table.  If your school allows students to use their cell phones, allow students to take pictures of their setup and their results!  This will really help students later when they write about their results or reflect on what they did in class.


Before each lab, go over every single safety procedure and what students need to do to be safe.  It may sound really silly, but you must mention the rules like “Do NOT eat or lick or sniff anything in lab.  Ever!”  A colleague of mine once had a student who licked an agar plate with bacteria on it, after a friend’s dare.  Let each and every student in your class know that you take safety very seriously and any student who skips out on a safety rule should get the heavy smack-down the first time.  So that there never is a second time!  If there is a student with special needs who may have trouble using glassware, switch to plastic if you can for that class period.  Don’t just give that student plastic and the rest of the class glass, which would just embarrass that student and make him/her feel singled out.


If you can, figure out which other students in your class are friendly to a student with special needs and mature enough to help that student with special needs and pair them together.  Always assign lab partners because you want to avoid the situation where students are choosing lab partners and the special needs student (or any other student) could get left out.


If you have a student in a wheelchair and your lab tables are too high, you can re-purpose a lower table as their modified lab bench.  A lot of lab classrooms now are being built with a lower, more accessible lab bench nowadays but yours might not have one.  Be an advocate for your student and let your administration know you need a table repurposed for this.


What tips do you have for helping all your students succeed in the lab?  Please let me know in the comments below!

Read the next post in this Differentiation in the Science Classroom Series:

2. Lab Report Writing!

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Differentiation in the Science Classroom #2: Lab Report Writing

Differentiation in the Science Classroom #2: Lab Report Writing