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Differentiated Instruction in the Classroom. November 15, 2006 Mary Hall. What does it bring to mind? What does it look like in the classroom?. What is Differentiated Instruction?. Differentiated Instruction.

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Differentiated Instruction in the Classroom

November 15, 2006

Mary Hall

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What does it bring to mind?

What does it look like in the classroom?

What is Differentiated Instruction?

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Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction is responsive instruction. It occurs as teachers become increasing proficient in understanding their students as individuals, increasingly comfortable with the meaning and structure of the disciplines they teach, and increasingly expert at teaching flexibility in order to match instruction to student need with the goal of maximizing the potential of each learner in a given area.

- Carol Ann Tomlinson, Fulfilling the Promise of the Differentiated Classroom, 2003

Teachers need to embrace and understand the theory / rationale behind differentiated instruction.

Completing activities that are differentiated without understanding underlying theory only leads to a teacher then not being able to generate activities herself.

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Looks Like

Students are engaged

Students are all over the place

Students are grouped in various ways

Organized chaos

Creativity and imagination are everywhere

The room is frequently messy

Sounds Like


Students are teaching one another

Sharing of ideas

Conversation is busy but on task

Compliments and praise (teacher to students and students to students)

What A Differentiated Classroom Looks and Sounds Like...

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Role of the Teacher in Creating a Positive Classroom


  • Several guiding principles must be considered when modifying a classroom:

  • Be learner centered

  • Emphasize student independence

  • Exercise acceptance

  • Be flexible rather than rigid

  • Encourage high mobility

  • Be open to exploration and novel ideas

  • Provide feedback

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Some Principles of a Differentiated Classroom

  • The teacher is clear about what matters in subject matter.

  • The teacher understands, appreciates, and builds upon student differences.

  • Assessment and instruction are inseparable.

  • The teacher adjusts content, process, and product in response to student’s readiness, interests, and learning profile.

  • All students participate in respectful work.

  • Students and teachers are collaborators in learning.

  • Goals of a differentiated classroom are maximum growth and individual success.

  • Flexibility is the hallmark of a differentiated classroom.

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Differentiated Instruction in Mathematics

1.Differentiate based on learning style by providing more hands-on activities, allowing the use of calculators and other tools, encouraging students to draw or explain verbally rather than write.

2.Consider the appropriate level of practice (guided, massed, or distributed) when assigning homework.

3.Allow for extended time for practice or review of the most essential concepts by setting appropriate priorities.

4.Group with better problem solvers for open-ended problems.

5.Pre-assess before beginning new units of study to identify areas of strength and weakness.

6.Use a variety of assessment strategies including teacher evaluation and performance tasks.

7.Use authentic activities, connecting math to students’ lives and interests.

8.When appropriate, allow for student choices in activities and problems.

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Differentiation: A Way of Thinking About the Classroom

1. Students who are the same age differ in their readiness to learn, their interests, their styles of learning, their experiences, and their life circumstances.

2. The differences in students are significant enough to make a major impact on what students need to learn, the pace at which they need to learn it, and the support they need from teachers and others to learn it well.

3. Students will learn best when supportive adults push them slightly beyond where they can work without assistance.

4. Students will learn best when they can make a connection between curriculum and their interests and life experiences.

5. Students will learn best when learning opportunities are natural.

6. Students are more effective learners when classrooms and schools create a sense of community in which students feel significant and respected.

7. The central job of schools is to maximize the capacity of each student.

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Questions to Ask When Planning Tiered Assignments

What is the outcome? What do I want students to know, understand, or be able to do?

Will this lesson, activity, or workshop help students achieve this outcome?

Who needs this? Who knows this already? How do I know?

Are there some students who should do this lesson or activity as is?

Are there some students who need more challenge? How can I provide this?

Are there some students who don’t need this at all? What will they do instead? 

Are there some students who need more support or modification? How can I provide this?

Are there some students who would not benefit even with more support or modification? What will they do instead?

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Question #1:

Describe the princess. Write about how she looks, feels and behaves.

Question #2:

Compare the princess to a character from another story you read. Tell how they are alike and how they are different.

Question #3:

It is one year after the story ended. Write about the princess now. What did she learn from her adventure? What is she doing now?

Tiered Questions for Paper Bag Princess

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Create a poster or brochure. Draw a picture.

Write a letter or a postcard. Write a journal entry.



Make a decision

Write a rhyme or jingle. Write a poem or a riddle


Bingo Board

Choose enough activities to make a bingo.

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Choose 3 tasks that make a bingo. Everyone must complete the center task.

List the common parts of a line graph and a bar graph. You must include at least 3 things these graphs have in common and use correct math terms in your list.

Create and solve your own mystery message using ordered pairs. Your message must include at least 10 words and the clues must lead us to the correct message.

Answer questions based on the attached circle graph. You need 100% accuracy in your answer and you must use appropriate math terms.

Refer to the temperature line graph and create three questions about the data. Make sure your questions use correct math terms. Prepare an answer sheet with sample answers to the questions.

Create a graph using the data available. Your teachers will assign your color for this task.

Create a poster showing the three types of graphs. Make use the graphs include correct labels and a title. Create situations where each graph could be used. You may draw or cut out pictures to add to your poster.

Compare and contrast a bar graph and a line graph using a Venn diagram. Find at least 3 accurate similarities and differences. Use correct math terms.

Write a story that the attached graph illustrates. Your story must be at least 2 paragraphs and include accurate information from your graph. Use correct math terms.

Complete the performance assessment task worksheet, “Ticket Sales”. You need 100% accuracy in the date you display and your choice must make sense based on the data.

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Examples of Differentiated Activities the center task.

  • Reading

    • Princess Bag Story (tiered activities/bingo board)

    • Principal’s New Clothes (index cards)

    • Barnegat Bay Estuary Program (main idea)

  • Writing

    • Alphabox

    • Alice Paul (writing a summary – highlighting)

    • Train to Somewhere (predict/writing a summary)

  • Mathematics

    • Scavenger hunt

    • Frayer Model

  • Social Studies

    • United States (zap)

    • Martin Luther King, Jr. (gathering grid) – playing cards

  • Science

    • Estuary Program (gathering facts sheet) – letter grouping

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Hope you enjoyed the presentation! the center task.

Thank You!