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An Introduction to Differentiation. Presented by Kathy Marks, M.Ed. Does this sound like your class?.

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an introduction to differentiation

An Introduction to Differentiation

Presented by Kathy Marks, M.Ed.


“Mrs. Johnson walks into her fifth-grade classroom on the first day of school to meet the twenty-five children she will teach for the next ten months. She has read their files, examined their standardized test scores, and met with their fourth-grade teachers. However, it is only when she has spent time with her class that she gets to know each of them as a child and learner. One student loves hamsters; another is an avid fisherman. One student is a writer beyond her years; another has trouble stringing two sentences together but can solve complex math problems. One student would like to be invisible and another wants to be noticed every minute of the day. Several students race through their work to be the first one finished, but one child wears out erasers in an effort to make every letter perfect and needs extra time to complete an assignment. Four students receive support for their learning disabilities, three are English language learners, one child has Asperger’s syndrome, and one has attention deficit disorder.

Mrs. Johnson’s class is not unusual, and the mountain she has to climb is not insurmountable. Mrs. Johnson’s mission is to teach this varied group so each student successfully meets the standards set forth by the state in which she teaches. More important, the greater challenge is to meet each child where he or she is and move each forward in his or her learning as far as possible” (Levy, 2008, p.161).

what is differentiation
What is Differentiation?
  • Allows all students to access the same classroom curriculum by providing entry points, learning tasks, and outcomes tailored to students’ learning needs
  • Not a single strategy, but rather an approach to instruction that incorporates a variety of strategies
what is differentiation1
What is Differentiation?
  • A process to maximize each student’s growth and individual success by meeting each student where he or she is
  • Integration of constructivist learning theory, learning styles, and brain development with learner readiness, interest, and intelligence preferences
  • A learning environment and opportunities that excludes no child
what is differentiation2
What is Differentiation?
  • Every teacher has differentiated instruction in one way or another
  • But we can make our classrooms more responsive to student needs by being moresystematic in our approach to differentiation
  • Differentiated instruction is a set of strategies that will help teachers meet each child where they are when they enter class and move them forward as far as possible on their educational path
why differentiate
Why Differentiate?

We all have diverse classrooms with a range of student knowledge, abilities and disabilities, interests, experiences, language, culture, motivation, learning preferences, etc.

In response to this, effective teachers learn to develop classroom routines that attend to learner variance in readiness, interest, and learning profile

why differentiate1
Why Differentiate?
  • Is differentiation fair?
  • Think of teachers as doctors:
  • 3 children come to you
  • One has a bruise
  • One has a broken leg
  • One has a cut
  • Should they all receive equal treatment? Or should they be treated equitably based on their needs?
what research shows differentiating for student readiness
What Research Shows…Differentiating for Student Readiness
  • Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development”: where a child can succeed with scaffolding or support” and “new learning will take place”
  • Current brain research: “students should work at a level of ‘moderate challenge’ for learning to occur”
  • Research on multiage classes (differentiated by intent and necessity): achievement test results favor multiage classrooms versus single-grade classrooms on 75% of the measures used”

(Tomlinson et al., 2003)

what research shows differentiating for student interest
What Research Shows…Differentiating for Student Interest
  • “Interest-based study is linked to motivation and appears to promote positive impacts on learning in both the short and long term.” It is “a means of enhancing motivation, productivity, and achievement” as well as creativity
  • “Interest contributes to a sense of competence and self-determination in learners and to positive learning behaviors, such as willingness to accept challenge and persist in it”

(Tomlinson et al., 2003)

what research shows differentiating for student learning profile
What Research Shows…Differentiating for Student Learning Profile
  • “Addressing a student's learning style through flexible teaching….results in improved achievement and attitude gains in students from a wide range of cultural groups” (Tomlinson et al., 2003)
  • “Learners at primary, middle, and high school levels achieve better when instruction matches their preference” (Tomlinson et al., 2003)
  • “A growing body of research shows positive results for full implementation of differentiated instruction in mixed-ability classrooms.” Studies have found that differentiated instruction benefits students with disabilities and high-ability students (Huebner, 2010)
components of differentiation
Components of Differentiation
  • On-going assessment Choice Flexibility Creativity
  • These help to differentiate:
  • Content being taught
  • Processing of information
  • Products to show learning
  • Differentiation of content, process, and product should be guided by student characteristics of readiness, interest, and learning styles.
on going assessment
On-Going Assessment
  • Not just at the end of a unit
  • A means of understanding how to modify tomorrow’s instruction based on students’ readiness for particular ideas and skills, their interests, and their learning profiles
    • Diagnostic – pre-assess knowledge and skills
    • Formative – assess in order to adjust instruction
    • Summative – final assessment of mastery
  • Teachers and students should work together in a variety of ways:
    • Kind and use of materials
    • Pacing
    • Grouping (can be based on readiness, interest, or

learning profiles)

    • Instructional strategies
choice and creativity
Choice and Creativity
  • Teachers can provide students choices of
    • Content
    • Process
    • Products

based on their readiness, interests, and learning profiles.

  • This will require teacher creativity to design instruction and student creativity in their thinking and work.
differentiation of content
Differentiation of Content
  • Content is what we want students to learn
  • Content can be differentiated by:
    • adapting what is taught
    • modifying how students access learning (independence, partner work, teacher aid)
  • Content can be differentiated in response to student readiness, interest, or learning profiles.
differentiation of process
Differentiation of Process
  • Process is making sense of information and skills through application, analysis, practice, etc.
  • Process is easiest when activities are interesting and ask for high-level thinking.
  • Process can be differentiated by
    • offering multiple ways to make sense of information
  • Process can be differentiated in response to student readiness, interest, or learning profiles.
differentiation of product
Differentiation of Product
  • Product is a way to show long-term learning through thinking, applying, demonstrating
  • Product can be differentiated by:
    • adapting the format
    • modifying the amount of scaffolding needed
  • Product can be differentiated in response to student readiness, interest, or learning profiles.

Guided by on-going assessment, flexibility, choice, and creativity, teachers can differentiate by

Content Process Product

according to

Readiness Interest Learning Profile

(Tomlinson, 1999)


Anderson, K. M. (2007). Tips for teaching: Differentiating instruction to include

all students. Preventing School Failure, 51(3), 49-54.

Hall, T., Strangman, N., & Meyer, A. (2003). Differentiated instruction and

implications for UDL implementation.Wakefield, MA: National Center on

Accessing the General Curriculum.

Huebner, T. A. (2010). Differentiated instruction. Educational Leadership, 67(5),


Levy, H. M. (2008). Meeting the needs of all students through differentiated

instruction: Helping every child reach and exceed standards. Clearing House,

81(4), 161-164.

Tomlinson, C. A. (1999). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs

of all learners. Alexandria, VA.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum


Tomlinson, C.A. & Imbeau, M.B. (2010). Leading and managing a differentiated

classroom. Alexandria, VA: ASDC.


Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability

classrooms(2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and

Curriculum Development.

Tomlinson, C. A., Brighton, C., Hertberg, H., Callahan, C. M., Moon, T. R.,

Brimijoin, K., . . . Reynolds, T. (2003). Differentiating instruction in response to

student readiness, interest, and learning profile in academically diverse

classrooms: A review of literature. Journal for the Education of the Gfted,

27(2/3), 119-145.

Watts-Taffe, S., Laster, B. P. (., Broach, L., Marinak, B., McDonald Connor, C., &

Walker-Dalhouse, D. (2012). Differentiated instruction: Making informed

teacher decisions. Reading Teacher, 66(4), 303-314. doi: 10.1002/TRTR.01126