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Differentiated Instruction. Reference:. ASCD Institute led by Carol Ann Tomlinson & Marcia Imbeau in February 2011 in Houston, Texas. In Our Schools, We Have:. More students speaking more languages than ever; Increasing numbers of students with learning difficulties;

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  • ASCD Institute led by Carol Ann Tomlinson & Marcia Imbeau in February 2011 in Houston, Texas.
in our schools we have
In Our Schools, We Have:
  • More students speaking more languages than ever;
  • Increasing numbers of students with learning difficulties;
  • More students needing help with reading & writing;
  • Many advanced learners who need to continue their growth;
  • An economic divide reflected in our classes;
  • A need for virtually all students to leave school as:
    • thinkers,
    • flexible & independent learners, &
    • producers of knowledge.
according to research
According to Research:
  • Students:
    • Learn at different rates;
    • Need different degrees of difficulty.
    • Have different interests.
    • Learn in different ways.
    • Need different support systems.

And yet…

In spite of the great & growing variety of students in our classrooms…

in many cases
In Many Cases:
  • Teachers cover highly-prescribed content (we don’t teach individuals).
    • And there is too much of it for the time available.
  • We have an expectation of success for everyone on the same test, administered at the same time, under the same circumstances.
    • This is comfortable for teachers; not so much for students.
  • It allows us to retain (and intensify) familiar habits of instruction that are:
    • Mostly teacher-centered
    • Often low-level
    • Mainly text-focused
    • Usually orderly & predictable
what we know
What We Know:
  • Teaching a roomful of learners
  • the same thing in
  • the same way
  • over the same time span
  • with the same supports
  • and expecting good results
  • has never happened
  • and it never will…
so what do we do
So What do We Do?






so what is differentiation
So, What is Differentiation?

Develop a metaphor, analogy, or

visual symbol

that you think

represents &

clarifies what‘s

important to

understand about


Explain to a new

teacher what

differentiation is in terms of what he/she

would be doing in the classroom – & why. The definition

should help the new

teacher develop an

image of differentiation

in action

Write a definition of differentiation

you feel clarifies its

intent, elements,

& principles.In other words, a

definition that could clarify thinking here at your school.

the basics
The Basics

At its most basic level, differentiating instruction means shaking up what goes on in the classroom so that students have multiple options for:

  • taking in information,
  • making sense of ideas, &
  • expressing what they learn.
di building blocks
DI Building Blocks
  • Reflecting on Students
  • Developing Clarity About Curriculum
  • Using Effective Instructional Approaches
  • Managing for Flexibility
    • These practices are essential to DI; but they also can be the largest barriersfor teachers/groups of teachers who are trying to use differentiation in classrooms.
      • Many teachers are good at one or two of these, but not at others.
    • Each step involves questions we need to continually ask ourselves:
reflecting on students
Reflecting on Students
  • What do I want to know about my students as individuals? As a group?
    • What do I already know?
  • How well do they read & write?
    • How well do they understand when they listen?
  • What’s the hardest for them in school?
    • What do they already know about what I’m planning to teach?
  • How do they feel about their peers?
    • How do their peers feel about them?
    • How does their culture & gender affect their learning?
  • What are their dreams? What are their interests? How do they work best?
    • What experiencesdo they have that relate to what we’re studying?
  • What attitudes do they have about learning? About schools?
    • What kind of adult supports do they have outside of school?
reflecting on students1
Reflecting on Students

Formative assessments

are key at this stage.

clarity about curriculum
Clarity About Curriculum
  • What is this topic really about? Why study it?
    • What makes it connect to the students’ lives?
    • How does it help students understand the discipline better?
  • What should students know, understand, & be able to do as a result of each lesson & the unit as a whole?
    • What questions are essential to ask about the topic?
    • What are the key concepts that give the topic meaning?
  • How does the topic relate to experts?
    • What is the potential of this topic to show students connections & to help students understand themselves & their world?
clarity about curriculum1
Clarity About Curriculum

Specific Curriculum Outcomes are key at this stage.

effective instructional approaches
Effective Instructional Approaches
  • In what ways might I honor student interests?
    • What options do I have when I share ideas/create tasks for students?
  • In what ways might I honor students’ varied learning preferences/styles?
    • How can I encourage a wide range of complex thinking?
    • What modes of expression might I offer/teach students?
  • Which instructional approaches best serve the goals of this lesson/unit?
    • How do I ensure that the approaches I select serve my students well?
    • What choices in learning might I offer my students?
    • How can I point the way to increase the quality of student work?
effective instructional approaches1
Effective Instructional Approaches

This stage combines what we know about our students with the curriculum we’re going to share.

managing for flexibility
Managing for Flexibility
  • How can I use time, space, & materialsmore flexibly?
    • How do I establish & maintain appropriate levels of sound& movementin the classroom?
    • How can I make students my partnersin operating our classroom?
  • How do we practice class routinesto foster independence?
    • Where do I find time to meet with small groups?
    • How & when can I coach individuals?
  • How do I give multiple sets of directions?
    • How do I create tasks that provide adequate challenge, engagement, & structure for individuals & small groups?
  • What record-keeping systemsclarify goals & progressfor me & my students?
managing for flexibility1
Managing for Flexibility

The Key? A shift in the traditional mindset.

some common barriers
Some Common Barriers
  • According to Tomlinson, the four biggest impediments to differentiation in the early stages are:
    • Lack of clarity about curriculum goals (what students should know, understand, do - not what they're going to cover. That's very important because that provides the platform for differentiation).
    • Lack of focus on individual students (we tend to think and talk about "the kids" as a whole rather than studying individuals. As long as we see them predominately as a group, we teach that way).
    • Lack of comfort with instructional strategies that invite us to differentiate - to reach out to kinds in different ways.
    • Uncertainty about how to manage a classroom in which students are not all doing the same thing in the same way in the same time span.
a continuum of differentiated instruction
A Continuum of Differentiated Instruction
  • In a classroom with little or no differentiation:
    • The class works as a whole on most materials, exercises, projects.
    • There is group pacing
      • Doesn’t necessarily suit all learners in the room.
    • There are group grading standards.
    • There is an implied or stated philosophy that all the students need the same teaching & learning.
a continuum of differentiated instruction1
A Continuum of Differentiated Instruction
  • In a classroom with some differentiation:
    • Teachers adjust questions in discussion.
    • Teachers encourage individuals to take an assignment farther.
    • There are implied variations in grading experiences.
    • Students pick their own work groups.
    • If students finish work early, they can read, do puzzles, etc.
    • There are occasional exceptions to standard pacing.
      • May not need to show work, do all math problems, etc.
    • There are occasional adjustments in grading to reflect student effort and/or ability.
a continuum of differentiated instruction2
A Continuum of Differentiated Instruction
  • In a fully-differentiated classroom:
    • There is a clearly-stated philosophy of student differences.
    • There is planned assessment/compacting.
    • Variable pacing is a given.
    • There is moving furniture & consistent use of flexible groups.
    • There is planned variation in content/input.
      • There is also planned variation in product/output.
    • There is individual goal setting & assessment.
      • Grading reflects individual growth/process.
    • There is frequent mentoring and monitoring.
di examples

DI Examples

Using Sternberg’s Theory of Intelligences

digestion differentiated
  • Students Will (KUDs):
    • Know:
      • The names and functions of the major digestive system organs listed below, and include them in a presentation.
        • Mouth, teeth, saliva, epiglottis, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, villi, large intestine
    • Understand:
      • The big idea; in this case, that:
        • The human digestive system is an example of a system – a collection of two or more parts that work together to affect the entire body, and
        • That each part is related to the others in some way.
    • Do:
      • Demonstrate their understanding of digestion using the correct structure and function vocabulary to show how a piece of food moves through and provides fuel for the human body – from the time it enters the mouth to the time waste leaves the body.
the cell

The Cell

A Differentiated Lesson Using Sternberg’s Three Intelligences

biology a di lesson using sternberg s intelligences
Biology – A DI Lesson Using Sternberg’s Intelligences
  • Learning Goals:
    • Know:
      • the names of cell parts and functions of cell parts
    • Understand:
      • a cell is system of interrelated parts
    • Do:
      • analyze the interrelationships of the cell parts/functions;
      • Present understandings in a clear, useful, interesting, and fresh way.
    • After a whole class study of a cell, students choose one of the following sense-making activities (based on Sternberg’s model).
  • Use a cause/effect chain or some other format you develop to show how each part of a cell affects other parts as well as the whole.
  • Use labels, directional markers, and other symbols as appropriate to ensure that someone who has no idea about how a cell works will be enlightened after they study your work.
  • Look around you in your world for systems that could serve as analogies for the cell.
    • Select your best analogy (‘best’ most clearly matched, most explanatory or enlightening).
    • Devise a way to make the analogy clear and visible to an audience of peers, ensuring that they will develop clearer and richer insights about how a cell works by sharing in your work.
    • Be sure to emphasize both the individual functions of cell parts and the interrelationships among the parts.
  • Use unlikely stuff to depict the structure and function of the cell, with emphasis on interrelationships among each of the parts. You should select your materials carefully to reveal something important about the cell, its parts, and their interrelationships.


  • Tell a story that helps us understand a cell as a system with interdependent actors or characters, a plot to carry out, a setting, and even a potential conflict. Use your own imagination and narrative preferences to help us gain insights into this remarkable system.