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Differentiated Instruction: How it can look at the Middle Level. January 25, 2008. A Fable. One time the animals had a school. The curriculum consisted of running, climbing, flying and swimming, and all the animals took all the subjects.

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a fable
A Fable

One time the animals had a school. The curriculum consisted of running, climbing, flying and swimming, and all the animals took all the subjects.

The duck was good in swimming, better than his instructor, and he made passing grades in flying, but was practically hopeless in running. He kept this up until he was only average in swimming. But, average is acceptable, so nobody worried about that but the duck.
The eagle was considered a problem pupil and was disciplined severely. He beat all the others to the top of the tree in the climbing class, but he had used his own way of getting there.
The rabbit started out at the top of his class in running, but had a nervous breakdown and had to drop out of school on account of so much makeup work in swimming.
The squirrel led the climbing class, but his flying teacher made him start his flying lessons from the ground instead of the top of the tree, and he developed charley horses from overexertion at the takeoff and began getting C’s in climbing and D’s in running.
The practical prairie dog apprenticed their offspring to a badger when the school authorities refused to add digging to the curriculum.
At the end of the year, an eel that could swim well, run, climb, and fly a little was made valedictorian.

- Printed in The Instructor, April 1968

today s objectives
Today’s Objectives
  • Understand the model for Differentiated Instruction
  • Discover strategies to differentiate a lesson based on student interest
  • Discuss considerations for creating a differentiated lesson and building a differentiated classroom

When I skate, I go where the puck is.

Wayne Gretsky

When we teach, we should go where the student is.

why do we need to differentiate
Why Do We Need to Differentiate?

When a teacher tries to teach something to the whole entire class at the same time, chances are, one-third of the kids already know it; one-third will get it; and the remaining third won’t.

Lillian Katz

Willis, S (November 1993). “Teaching Young Children: Educators Seek ‘Developmental Appropriateness.” Curriculum Update, 1-8.

differentiated instruction is not
Differentiated Instruction is NOT…
  • “Individualized” Instruction
  • Chaotic
  • Just another way to provide homogeneous grouping
  • Just “tailoring the same suit of clothes”
“At its most basic level, differentiation means ‘shaking up’ what goes on in the classroom so that students have multiple options for taking in information, making sense of ideas, and expressing what they learn.”

Tomlinson, C.A. (2001) How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms


Teachers Can Differentiate:




According to Students’





we know that students learn better if
We know that students learn better IF…
  • Tasks are a close match for the skills and understanding of a topic (readiness)
  • Tasks ignite curiosity or passion in a student (interest)
  • The assignment encourages students to work in a preferred manner (learning profile).
primary consideration
Primary Consideration:

What is your learning target?

  • What must ALL students:
  • Know
  • Understand
  • be able to Do

Learning Target

Students may have different paths to the target.

c r a f t s assignments
(C.)R.A.F.T. (S). Assignments

Context, Role, Audience, Format, Topic, Strong Verb

  • Aids students in formulating ideas that are outside of the typical response paragraphs and essays
  • Allows for high student choice and differentiation by interest
  • Allows for leveling by difficulty and differentiation by readiness
r a f t s prompts
R.A.F.T.(S). Prompts
  • Imagine that you are Goldilocks’ mother (role). Explain (strong verb) to Goldilocks (audience) the importance of using good manners (topic).
  • The leaves from a tree (audience) would like to know why they are changing color (topic). Pretend you are a scientist (role) and write them a letter (format) to explain (strong verb) why.
create a c r a f t s prompt
Create a (C).R.A.F.T.(S). Prompt
  • Think of a topic you are currently studying that would lend itself to a writing assessment
  • Identify a variety of each:
      • Context- This may be added for beginning writers it provides the background or scenario for the writing
    • Role
    • Audience
    • Format
    • Topic
    • Strong verb – direct the writer to the purpose
  • Write your prompt in sentence format, leaving blanks for student choice where appropriate .
student choice boards
Student Choice Boards
  • Enable students to choose learning activities that are designed by the teacher
  • Can be used in any subject area and enhanced with nonlinguistic representation
fractions choice board
Fractions Choice Board
  • Learning Goals: Students will…
    • KNOW: Fractions show parts of a whole and can be expressed numerically.
    • UNDERSTAND: Fractions represent equal sized portions or fair shares.
    • Be able to DO: Use different materials to demonstrate what the fraction looks like.

Turville, J. (2007) Differentiating by Student Interest

insects choice board
Insects Choice Board
  • Learning Goals: Students will…
    • KNOW: The characteristics of insects.
    • UNDERSTAND: Insects have particular characteristics and parts and are different from other kinds of bugs.
    • Be able to DO: Create a product that demonstrates an understanding of characteristics that are particular to insects.

Turville, J. (2007) Differentiating by Student Interest

learning contracts
Learning Contracts
  • Allow student choice with a range of specified activities.
  • “Pact” between teacher and learner to complete a series of tasks that are designed to achieve specific learning goals
  • Encourage responsibility and time management

Turville, J. (2007) Differentiating by Student Interest

sample learning contract
Sample Learning Contract

Activities Chosen:

My activities will be complete and handed in and/or ready to present by _______________________________.

Student Signature ________________

Teacher Signature ________________

Parent Signature _________________

Turville, J. (2007) Differentiating by Student Interest

considerations for planning a differentiated lesson
Considerations for Planning a Differentiated Lesson
  • Identify the student learning target/s that ALL students must reach
  • Decide WHAT you will differentiate:
  • Decide HOW you will differentiate and the assessment method you will use
  • Determine what assessment method/s you will use
creating a differentiated classroom
Creating a Differentiated Classroom
  • Start Slowly…But Start
    • One subject or one class
      • Where the need is greatest
      • Where you feel most comfortable
    • Deliberately plan to differentiate Content, Product, or Process
    • Based on your Students’ Readiness, Interest or Learning Preference
  • Don’t Bother Differentiating Fluff

“A teacher in a differentiated classroom does not classify herself as someone who ‘already differentiates instruction.’ Rather, that teacher is fully aware that every hour of teaching, every day in the classroom can reveal one more way to make the classroom a better match for its learners.”

Tomlinson, C.A. (2001) How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms


“I like this class because there’s always something different going on all the time. Other classes are like peanut butter for lunch every single day. In this class, it’s like my teacher really knows how to cook. It’s like she runs a really good restaurant with a big menu.”

~ 7th grader

  • Tomlinson, C.A. (1999). The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  • Tomlinson, C.A. (2001). How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  • Turville, Joni. (2007). Differntiating by Student Interest: Strategies and Lesson Plans. Larchmont, NY: Eye On Education.
  • Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (2005). Seeing with new eyes: A guidebook on teaching & assessing beginning writiers (6th ed.). Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.