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differentiated instruction what it means for today s classroom

Differentiated Instruction: What It Means for Today’s Classroom

By Megan E. Marshall

University of New England

  • Differentiated instruction is an approach to teaching and learning that gives students multiple options for taking in information and making sense of ideas (Hall, Strangman, and Meyer, 2003)
  • Differentiated instruction “provides different avenues to acquiring content, to processing or making sense of ideas, and to developing products so each student can learn effectively” (Tomlinson, 2001, p. 1)
  • Carol Ann Tomlinson discusses the rationale behind differentiation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqCjzNA57V4&feature=related

“In a differentiated classroom, the teacher proactively plans and carries out varied approaches to content, process and product in anticipation of and response to student differences in readiness, interest, and learning needs.”

(Tomlinson, 2001, p. 7)

classroom elements to differentiate
Classroom Elements to Differentiate
  • Content – the same content can be taught to all students, but the complexity should vary according to the student’s needs
  • Process or Sense-Making – the activities the students engage in to learn the content should be varied through interest, intelligence, grouping, graphic organizers, independent studies, role-playing, and much more
  • Product – the unit ‘exam’ should be varied so each student can demonstrate their learning in a unique way
  • Learning Environment – the way the classroom looks and feels should contain areas for quiet learning, partnered/group learning, varied materials, cultural centers, etc., and reflect safety and positivity

(Hall, Strangman, and Meyer, 2003; Tomlinson, 2001)


Teaching through Readiness – the task is intended to extend a student’s knowledge, understanding and skills just beyond their current ability

  • Teaching through Interest – providing tasks and topics that are genuinely interesting to the student or piques his/her curiosity
  • Teaching through Learning Needs/Profiles – creating tasks based on the mode of learning that best suits the student

(Tomlinson, 2001)

theories behind the differentiation movement
Theories Behind the Differentiation Movement
  • Howard Gardner’s Theory on Multiple Intelligences http://www.infed.org/thinkers/gardner.htm
  • Anthony Gregorc’s Thinking Styles http://web.cortland.edu/andersmd/learning/Gregorc.htm
  • David A. Kolb’s Learning Style Model http://www.infed.org/biblio/b-explrn.htm
  • Dunn and Dunn’s Learning Style Model http://0-search.ebscohost.com.lilac.une.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ385281&site=ehost-live
  • Lev Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development http://www.simplypsychology.org/Zone-of-Proximal-Development.html
teach within the zone of proximal development zpd
Teach within the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)
  • The ZPD is “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving, and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers" (McLeod, 2010).
  • In other words, do not frustrate the student with something too hard, do not bore the student with something too easy, but be sure they are challenged enough to embrace the task with some assistance.
Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences:8 Ways of Being Smart – It is not how smart you are, but how you are smart.
a brief definition of the eight intelligences
A Brief Definition of the Eight Intelligences
  • Linguistic intelligence - "word smart"
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence - “number/reasoning smart"
  • Visual-Spatial intelligence - "picture smart"
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence - "body smart"
  • Musical intelligence - "music smart"
  • Interpersonal intelligence - "people smart"
  • Intrapersonal intelligence - "self smart"
  • Naturalist intelligence - "nature smart“

(Armstrong, 2010)

how do you begin to differentiate
How Do You Begin to Differentiate?
  • The most important part of differentiation is assessing the students. You must understand their interests, habits, learning styles, and personalities in order to create tasks appropriate for each individual student.
  • “The primary purpose of assessment is for the teacher to analyze student progress for the purpose of modifying and refining the teaching/learning cycle to better meet student needs“ (DiGesu, 2011).
pre assessment or diagnostic assessment
Pre-assessment or Diagnostic Assessment
  • Pre-assessment allows the teacher to figure out what a student knows about an upcoming topic or skill. Once the teacher gathers this knowledge he/she can address the student’s strengths and needs throughout a unit.

(Chapman and King, 2005, p. 64)

strong pre assessments reveal the following
Strong pre-assessments reveal the following:
  • Knowledge base and background experience
  • Interests and talents
  • Attitudes, likes and dislikes
  • Feelings and emotions
  • Entry point for new information

(Chapman and King, 2005, p. 65)

strategies for pre assessment
Strategies for Pre-assessment
  • Observation–observe the students and take detailed notes
  • Varied Response Cards – the student can rate their knowledge through number scales, verbal scales, or facial expression scales
  • Questionnaires and Surveys – the students answer questions based on the upcoming topic
  • Pretests – formal tests for assessment
  • Details and other information:http://daretodifferentiate.wikispaces.com/file/view/Pre-assessment+Techniques+Chart.pdf
  • Excellent PowerPoint detailing pre-assessment strategies: http://daretodifferentiate.wikispaces.com/file/view/diff+preassess.ppt

(Chapman and King, 2005; Preassessment, 2011)

continuous assessment formative assessment or assessing during learning
Continuous Assessment, Formative Assessment, or Assessing During Learning
  • “Continually assess students’ readiness to identify the next steps in a procedure, to move to the next level, or to approach new skills or concepts” (Chapman and King, 2005, p. 64).
  • “He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.” (Friedrich Nietzsche)
  • Teachers must assess students continuously to ensure understanding and success, and avoid frustration and failure.
strategies for assessing during learning
Strategies for Assessing During Learning
  • Baggie Tools – avariety of personal assessment tools students can display to reveal their level of understanding
  • Note-Taking – teach proper note-taking skills and observe if students are identifying key information
  • Self-Talk – encourage students to engage in internal dialogue to increase metacognition and verbalize their understanding through personal responsibility
  • Student Checklists – have students self-assess what they learned or what is confusing
  • Exit Slips – before students leave, have them write a summary of the day’s lesson or the main idea of a topic
  • One Sentence Summary – students answer in one sentence the “who, what, where, when, why, and how” of the days’ lesson

(Alber, 2011; Chapman and King, 2005)

post assessment or summative assessment
Post-assessment or Summative Assessment
  • Summative assessment is used to discover what the students have learned from the previous lessons or units. Just because it was taught doesn’t mean that it was learned!!
  • With differentiation, summative assessments should not all be the same. Each student should be given the option to demonstrate his/her learned knowledge and/or skills in a way that best suits him/her.
  • “Post-assessments are a crucial step because the results are analyzed to see if the learned has reached the initial goals. If the goals have not been reached, specific plans are customized for this individual” (Chapman and King, 2005, p. 91).
strategies for post assessment
Strategies for Post-assessment
  • Open-Ended Questions – ask questions that give the students opportunities to elaborate on their knowledge of a topic. Use words such as “explain,” “describe,” “analyze,” “discuss,” “interpret,” etc.
  • Essays – the students write detailed reports about their knowledge or skills
  • Graphic Organizers, Pictures, Projects, Portfolios, Debates, etc.

(Chapman and King, 2005)

the possibilities are endless
The possibilities are endless!!!
  • Design a web page
  • Write a new law and plan for its passage
  • Lead a symposium
  • Write a letter to an editor, author, or character
  • Present an interior monologue
  • Write a poem
  • Make a movie or documentary
  • Design a political cartoon
  • Design and teach a lesson
  • Compile a pamphlet, brochure, or booklet
  • Design a costume
  • Draw blueprints
  • Present a news report
  • Develop a solution to a community problem
  • Choreograph a dance (Tomlinson, 2001, p. 89)
more about assessment
More about assessment…
  • View this fabulous clip of differentiation at work in a South Carolina school: http://www.edutopia.org/stw-differentiated-instruction-learning-styles-video
  • What assessment means, why it is important, and how to do it: http://www.gecdsb.on.ca/d&g/onlinepd/Assessment%20&%20Evaluation/Assessment%20Frames.htm
  • Short article about formative assessment: “Why Formative Assessments Matter”
embrace technology
Embrace Technology!!
  • Technology can differentiate lessons simply because there are so many tools available. It is possible for every student to use technology in a different way, and have the choice to do what they think is best. It is also possible to teach/assess all students in ways that will optimize individual learning and optimize the student’s ability to regurgitate the information he/she has learned.
  • “Technology tools can develop thinking skills, enhance problem-solving skills, and encourage collaboration…it must be embedded into effective instruction - engaging, authentic, collaborative, substantial lessons infused in best practice” (Owens, n.d.).
how to use technology and differentiation
How to Use Technology and Differentiation
  • Create Blogs for students to respond collaboratively
  • Use Glogs instead of 3D projects
  • Create Webquests for students to discover information independently
  • Use virtual tours to explore far away places
  • Post assignments and resources on a class website
  • Skype with pen pals
  • Use social networks for discussing books and readings
  • Use interactive white boards to get students moving and engaged
  • Design websites dedicated to the current unit of study
  • Students can create spreadsheets to compare statistics
  • And so much more!
benefits of differentiation
Benefits of Differentiation
  • More engaging options for the unmotivated student
  • Opening doors for English Language Learners
  • Helping learning disabled students
  • Challenging gifted students
  • Meeting individual needs in mixed-ability classrooms
  • Instruction is student-centered, not teacher-centered
  • Differentiation is deeply rooted in long-lasting educational theories and practices, as well as sociological and psychological theories about learning

(Hall, Strangman and Meyer, 2003)

  • (2007). Learning-style assessment. Retrieved from http://www.learnmoreindiana.org/needtoknow/Pages/LearningStylesInventory.aspx
  • Alber, R. (2011, February 15). Why formative assessments matter [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/formative-assessments-importance-of-rebecca-alber
  • Anderson, M. (n.d.). Mind styles – Anthony Gregorc. Retrieved from http://web.cortland.edu/andersmd/learning/Gregorc.htm
  • Armstrong, T. (2010). Multiple intelligences. Retrieved from http://www.thomasarmstrong.com/multiple_intelligences.php
  • Chapman, C. & King, R. (2005). Differentiated assessment strategies: One tool doesn’t fit all. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc.
  • DiGesu, E. (2011). The purpose of assessment. Retrieved from http://www.gecdsb.on.ca/d&g/onlinepd/Assessment%20&%20Evaluation/Assessment%20Frames.htm
  • Dunn, R., & And, O. (1989). Survey of research on learning styles. Educational Leadership, 46(6), 50-58. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
  • Ellis, K. (2010). How differentiated instruction and formative assessment work at Forest Lake Elementary [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/stw-differentiated-instruction-learning-styles-video

Hall, T., Strangman, N., & Meyer, A. (2003). Differentiated instruction and implications for UDL implementation. Wakefield, MA: National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum. Retrieved [insert date] from http://aim.cast.org/learn/historyarchive/backgroundpapers/differentiated...

Huebner, T.A. (2010, February). Differentiated learning. Educational Leadership, 67(5). Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb10/vol67/num05/Differentiated-Learning.aspx

Kaavyakrishna. (2009, January 8). The story of differentiation [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gW3CNCGGgTY

Kapusnick, R. A., & Hauslein, C. M. (2001). The “silver cup" of differentiated instruction. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 37(4), 156-59. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

McLeod, S. (2010). Zone of proximal development. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/Zone-of-Proximal-Development.html

New York Department of Education. (2008). The nuts and bolts in understanding differentiated instruction. [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from http://www.oit.nycenet.edu/diff/documents/DINutsBolts10_03.pdf

Owens, R. (n.d). New day, new way [Web log comment]. Retrieved from http://www.guide2digitallearning.com/blog_renee_owens/new_day_new_way

Preassessment options: Every pupil response techniques. (2011, July 15). Retrieved August 10, 2011, from Dare to Differentiate: http://daretodifferentiate.wikispaces.com/file/view/Pre-assessment+Techniques+Chart.pdf


Preassessment tools. (2011, July 15). Retrieved August 10, 2011, from Dare to Differentiate: http://daretodifferentiate.wikispaces.com/file/view/diff+preassess.ppt

  • Smith, M.K. (2001) David A. Kolb on experiential learning. The Encyclopedia of Informal Education. Retrieved from http://www.infed.org/biblio/b-explrn.htm
  • Smith, M.K. (2002, 2008). Howard Gardner and multiple intelligences. The Encyclopedia of Informal Education. Retrieved from http://www.infed.org/thinkers/gardner.htm
  • Tomlinson, C.A. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.