Strategies for Differentiating Instruction


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Strategies for Differentiating Instruction

  1. 1. Handout 1Strategies for Differentiating InstructionDifferentiation is a process through which teachers enhance learning by matching studentcharacteristics to instruction and assessment. Differentiation allows all students to accessthe same classroom curriculum by providing entry points, learning tasks, and outcomes thatare tailored to students’ needs. In a differentiated classroom, variance occurs in the way inwhich students gain access to the content being taught (Hall, Strangman, & Meyer, 2003).Teachers can differentiate content, process, and/or product for students (Tomlinson, 1997).Differentiation of content refers to a change in the material being learned by the student. Forexample, if the classroom objective is for all students to write persuasive paragraphs, someof the students may be learning to use a topic sentence and supporting details, while othersmay be learning to use outside sources to defend their viewpoint. Differentiation of processrefers to the way in which the student accesses material. One student may explore alearning center while another student collects information from the web. Differentiation ofproduct refers to the way in which the student shows what he or she has learned. Forexample, to demonstrate understanding of the plot of a story, one student may create a skit,while another student writes a book report.When teachers differentiate, they do so in response to students’ readiness, interest, and/orlearning profile. Readiness refers to the skill level and background knowledge of the child.Teachers use diagnostic assessments to determine students’ readiness. Interest refers totopics that the student may want to explore or that will motivate the student. Teachers canask students about their outside interests and even include students in the unit-planningprocess. Finally, the student’s learning profile includes learning style (for example, is thestudent a visual, auditory, tactile, or kinesthetic learner), grouping preferences (for example,does the student work best individually, with a partner, or in a large group), andenvironmental preferences (for example, does the student need lots of space or a quiet areato work). When a teacher differentiates, all of these factors can be taken into accountindividually or in combination (Tomlinson, 1997).The table in this document provides descriptions of eight differentiation strategies, ways inwhich the strategies are primarily used to differentiate instruction, and guidelines for theiruse. Teachers should select differentiation strategies based on the curriculum taught andthe needs of students in their classrooms. 1
  2. 2. Handout 1DifferentiationStrategyi Primary Use Description of Strategy Things to ConsiderTiered Readiness Assignments and products are • Focus task on a keyAssignments designed to instruct and conceptand Products assess students on essential skills that are provided at • Use a variety of different levels of complexity, resource materials abstractness, and open- at different levels of endedness. The curricular complexity and content and objective(s) are associated with the same, but the process different learning and/or product are varied modalities according to the student’s • Adjust task by level of readiness. complexity, For example, students with abstractness, moderate understanding about number of steps, a topic are asked to write an concreteness, and article. Students with a more independence to advanced understanding are ensure challenge asked to prepare a debate. and not frustrationCompacting Readiness Compacting is the process of • Thoroughly pre- eliminating teaching or student assess the learner’s practice due to previous knowledge and mastery of learning objectives. document findings Compacting involves a three step process: • Explain the process and its benefits to 1. assess the student to the student determine his/her level of knowledge on the • Create written plans material to be studied and timelines for and determine what study he/she still needs to • Allow student master choice in 2. create plans for what the enrichment or student needs to know, accelerated study and excuse the student from studying what he/she already knowsi This chart was adapted from The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners(Tomlinson, 1999). 2
  3. 3. Handout 1DifferentiationStrategy Primary Use Description of Strategy Things to Consider 3. create plans for freed-up time to be spent in enriched or accelerated study For example, a third grade class is learning to identify the parts of fractions. Diagnostics indicated that two students already know the parts of fractions. These students are excused from completing the identifying activities, and are taught to add and subtract fractions.Independent Interest The student and teacher • Base the project onStudy identify topics of interest to the student interest student. Together they plan a method of investigating the • Provide guidance topic and decide upon the and structure to outcome of the independent ensure high study. The result of the project standards of will be based on the needs of investigation and the student and the curricular product content. Guided by the • Use timelines to teacher, the student completes help student stay on his or her own research on the track and prevent topic and develops a product procrastination to share with classmates. • Use process logs or For example, in a unit on expert journals to ocean life, a student indicates document the that she wants to learn more process about sharks. With the teacher’s guidance she • Establish clear develops research questions, criteria for success collects information, and presents an oral report to the class about the feeding patterns of great white sharks. 3
  4. 4. Handout 1DifferentiationStrategy Primary Use Description of Strategy Things to ConsiderInterest Interest, Interest centers (usually used • Incorporate studentCenters or Readiness with younger students) and interestInterest interest groups (usually usedGroups with older learners) are set up • Encourage students so that learning experiences to help create tasks are directed toward a specific and define products learner interest. They allow • Adjust for student students to choose a topic and readiness can be motivating to students. If they are used as • Establish clear enrichment, they can allow the criteria for success study of topics beyond the • Adjust blocks of general curriculum. Groups work time based on address student readiness student readiness when they are differentiated by level of complexity and independence required. For example, in a unit about the Civil War, students can choose to work in groups on one of four topics: free labor vs. slave labor, a biography of Robert E. Lee, women’s role in Reconstruction, or how trade was impacted. 4
  5. 5. Handout 1DifferentiationStrategy Primary Use Description of Strategy Things to ConsiderFlexible Interest, Students work as part of many • Ensure that allGrouping Readiness, different groups depending on students have the Learning Profile the task and/or content. opportunity to work Sometimes students are with other students placed in groups based on who are similar and readiness, other times based dissimilar from on interest and/or learning themselves in terms profile. Groups can either be of interest, assigned by the teacher or readiness, and chosen by the students. learning profile Students can be assigned purposefully to a group or • Alternate purposeful assigned randomly. This assignment of strategy allows students to groups with random work with a wide variety of assignment or peers and keeps them from student selection being labeled as advanced or • Ensure that all struggling. students have been given the skills to For example, in a reading work collaboratively class, the teacher may assign groups based on readiness for • Provide clear phonics instruction, but allow guidelines for group students to choose their own functioning that are groups for book reports, based taught in advance of on the book topic. group work and consistently reinforced 5
  6. 6. Handout 1DifferentiationStrategy Primary Use Description of Strategy Things to ConsiderMultiple Levels Readiness, Teachers adjust the types of • Use wait timeof Questions Learning Profiles questions and the ways in before taking which they are presented student answers based on what is needed to advance problem-solving skills • Adjust the and responses. This strategy complexity, ensures that all students will abstractness, type be accountable for information of response and thinking at a high level necessary, and and that all students will be connections challenged. Finally, all required between students benefit from this topics based on strategy because all can learn readiness and from a wide range of questions learning profile and responses. • Encourage students For example, the teacher to build upon their prepares a list of questions own answers and about a topic that the whole the answers of class is studying. During a other students discussion, the teacher asks • If appropriate, give initial questions to specific students a chance students, based on readiness. to talk to partners or All students are encouraged to write down their ask and answer follow-up answers before questions. responding 6
  7. 7. Handout 1DifferentiationStrategy Primary Use Description of Strategy Things to ConsiderLearning Readiness, Learning contracts begin with • Match skills to theContracts Learning Profiles an agreement between the readiness of the teacher and the student. The learner teacher specifies the necessary skills expected to • Allow student be learned by the student and choice in the way in required components of the which material is assignment, while the student accessed and identifies methods for products are completing the tasks. This developed strategy allows students to • Provide the contract work at an appropriate pace in writing, with a and can target learning styles. clear timeline and Further, it helps students work expectations independently, learn planning skills, and eliminate • Include both skill- unnecessary skill practice. and content-based learning in the For example, a student contract completes a learning contract for a science project. He indicates that he will research the topic of mitosis, create a visual model to share with the class, and write a report. The learning contract indicates the dates by which each step of the project will be completed. 7
  8. 8. Handout 1DifferentiationStrategy Primary Use Description of Strategy Things to ConsiderChoice Boards Readiness, Choice boards are organizers • Include choices that Interest, Learning that contain a variety of reflect a range of Profiles activities. Students can interests and choose one or several learning styles activities to complete as they learn a skill or develop a • Guide students in product. Choice boards can be the choice of organized so that students are activities so that required to choose options they are challenged, that focus on several different but not frustrated skills. • Provide clear For example, after students instruction in the read Romeo and Juliet, use of choice students are given a choice boards board that contains a list of possible products for each of the following learning styles: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile. Students must complete two products from the board, and must choose these products from two different learning styles.ReferencesAssociation for Supervision and Curriculum Development. http://www.ascd.orgHall, T., Strangman, N., & Meyer, A. (2003). Differentiated Instruction and Implications for UDL Implementation. National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum. Retrieved July 9, 2004 from:, C.A. (1999). How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. 8
  9. 9. Handout 1The Access Center, a project of the American Institutes for Research, is funded by the U.S. Department ofEducation, Office of Special Education Programs Cooperative Agreement #H326K020003 9