By: Mackey, Struck, and Truelsen

What is differentiation?

Differentiation is a hot topic in education. According to www.ed.gov, differentiation "refers to instruction that is tailored to the learning preferences of different learners. Learning goals are the same for all students, but the method or approach of instruction varies according to the preferences of each student or what research has found works best for students like them".

Carol-Ann Tomlinson and Susan Dimersky Allan define differentiation in the educational context as "a teacher's reacting responsively to a learner's needs. A teacher who is differentiating understands a student's needs to express humor, or work with a group, or have additional teaching on a particular skill, or delve more deeply into a particular topic, or have guided help with a reading passage—and the teacher responds actively and positively to that need" (2000).

Principles that guide effective differentiation

According to Tomlinson and Demirsky Allan, the principles that guide effective differnetiation include

  • A differentiated classroom is flexible. Multiple activities, and grouping strategies are utilized to promote individual and whole-class success.
  • Differentiation of instruction stems from effective and ongoing assessment of learner needs. In a differentiated classroom, a teacher utilizes what he or she sees and what students say to assist in in understanding that particular learner and in tayloring instruction to be effective for that learner.
  • Flexible grouping helps ensure student access to a wide variety of learning opportunities and working arrangements. In a flexibly grouped classroom, a teacher plans student working arrangements that vary widely and purposefully over a relatively short period of time. Such classrooms utilize whole-class, small-group, and individual explorations.
  • All students consistently work with “respectful” activities and learning arrangements. This means that " every learner must have tasks that are equally interesting and equally engaging, and which provide equal access to essential understanding and skills. In differentiated classrooms, a teacher's goal is that each child feels challenged most of the time
  • Students and teachers are collaborators in learning. Teachers study their students and continually involve them in decision-making about the classroom. As a result, students become more independent as learners.

Elements of curriculum that can be differentiated

According to Tomlinson and Demirsky Allan, the elements of curriculum that can be differentiated are

  • Content- Teachers can differentiate content by using manipulatives in math for some students but not all, by using text or novels at more than one reading level, and by presenting information through multiple approaches. Teachers can also reteach students who need to see the information again whlie exempting students who already understand the content as well as use technology to convey key concpets to learners.
  • Process- Teachers can differentiate process or activities that students do to reach understanding, including using different activities for different ability levels or based on student interest.
  • Product- Among the ways to differentiate products are to allow students to help design products around essential learning goals, to encourage students to express what they have learned in multiple ways, and have variable grouping. Teachers can also offer and encourage the use of many different resources in preparing products, give assignments at different ability levels, use multiple types of assessments, and work with students to develop rubrics for whole class and indivual goals.
Big image

How can teachers differentiate for high achieving students?

Curriculum Compacting

What is it? After students demonstrate mastery on a pre-assessment, opportunities are provided for continued learning instead of redundant assignments for the student.

What could it look like?

· An investigation or research project

· An ill-structured problem to solve

· A service learning opportunity

· A project

· A negotiated contract

· A special assignment

Why would we do this?

· It provides for the student who is very capable and knowledgeable in a particular topic in a subject area.

· It enhances the curriculum, enhances and stretches thinking, and helps develop self-directed learners.

· It is a way to maximize time for the more advanced learner.

What are some helpful ideas when using this strategy?

· Students can work alone, with a partner with similar interests, or in a small group of students focusing on the same materials and/or applications.

· A log helps to monitor progress.

· Provide a learning contract

Learning Centers or Stations

What is it? A physical area of the classroom that is organized with various materials and learning experiences for specific instructional purposes, designed purposely and with a goal in mind.

What could it look like?

· Based on a theme or topic with different levels of difficulty

· Interest centers for further investigation of a topic

· Free inventing centers for experimenting, discovering, and inventing.

· Computer centers with multimedia resources for supplemental use.

· Art media table to create artifacts that represent learning and creativity.

· Role playing centers to demonstrate characters and sequence of events.

· Manipulatives centers for hands on learning.

· Writing centers with a variety of writing tools.

· Challenge centers for problem solving.

· Listening centers with music or readings from both fictional and factual content.

· Multiple intelligences centers that provide students with choices related to the topic.

Why would we do this?

· Enables students to explore and work independent of teacher direction.

· Students work with centers to develop, discover, create, and learn a task at their own pace.

· Students pursue interests and explore the world of knowledge.

· Students work at the level they need.

· Students can be creative and critical problem solvers.

· Students make choices, establish their own pace, and build persistence.

· Students learn to manipulate a variety of different materials.

· It facilitates complex thinking and dendritic growth.

· It focuses on important learning goals.

What are some helpful ideas when using this strategy?

· Open-ended inquiry is more productive than simple activities

· Students could create their own stations or centers.

· Research and presentations can be based on students’ interests and talents with greater immersion in the topic.

· A structured center has specific tasks assigned and an agenda developed by the teacher.

Individualized goals make students more responsible for their learning.

Tic-Tac-Toe Student Choice Activities

What is it? A grid like menu of possible activities where students choose three activities going across, down, or diagonally.

What could it look like?

· A variety of types of activities

· Writing songs/raps

· Creating a public service announcement

· Writing letters

· Creating a Powerpoint

· Doing a science experiment

· Creating and giving a survey to collect data.

· The possibilities are endless.

Why would we do this?

· Gives students a choice, but also the teacher control of the activities they can pick.

· Encourages and teaches independent learning.

· Includes a variety of types of activities.

What are some helpful ideas when using this strategy?

· May leave a blank for student choice.

· Make sure to give a variety of choices.

· Make sure the ones you absolutely want them to do are not in the corners so they are most likely going to have to do it.

How can teachers differentiate for lower achieving students?

visuals and manipulatives

What is it?

· Visuals are anything students can use to see that illustrate something and accompany a lesson.

· Manipulatives are anything students can touch, feel, or hold that they can use to connect ideas and symbols to physical objects.

What could it look like?

· Digital Cameras

· Online Image Searches

· Picture Cards

· Picture Books

· Videos

· Picture Word Walls

· Puppets

· Maps

Why would we do this?

· Using strong visuals and hands-on manipulatives can enhance a lesson and make it more meaningful.

· Children with reading problems feel more comfortable and have less difficulty with pictures, symbols, and materials than words.

· Expose students to target language and vocabulary in entertaining ways.

· Attaches sense, touch, and feel to a lesson.

· Helps students make connections to visuals.

What are some helpful ideas while using this strategy?

· Visuals should be large enough and clear for everyone to see.

· Create visuals and manipulatives to be reusable.

· Allow students opportunities to explore with the visuals and manipulatives.

Teach correct techniques while handling classroom manipulatives.

collaboration and peer coaching

What is it?

· Collaboration is working together with others in a learning experience to share ideas, help each other’s understanding of a topic, and/or to create something.

· Peer coaching is when students work with a partner to go over, collaborate, and work on skills or content.

What could it look like?

· Teambuilding games and activities

· Group presentations

· Group projects

· Peer assisted learning strategies

· Partner discussions

· Practice and review of material

Why would we do this?

· Students learn best from peers.

· It is a skill all students need.

· “Working across ability groups ‘pulls up’ the lower functioning groups” (Webster).

· Creates successful citizens and leaders in the future.

What are some helpful ideas while using this strategy?

· Take time to model and teach good collaboration techniques.

· Take time to model and teach students how to work in partnerships.

· Talk about the importance of understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

· Evaluate collaboration groups and if they are not functioning correctly, move in and coach the group.

multiple assessment types and do-overs

What is it?

· Assessments can vary in type, length, and quantity. There are multiple types of assessments such as oral questioning, pen/paper, presentation, projects, etc.

· Do-Overs are allowing students to revise their work once the teacher has provided individual feedback, suggestions for improvement, and additional instruction.

What could it look like?

· Allow extra time for practice and completion.

· Underline important directions or key words.

· Give directions or questions orally.

· Keep directions simple.

· Allow for a variety of length or quantity of assignments and assessments.

· Use large type for easier reading.

· Provide many opportunities for success.

· Provide personalized feedback and suggestions for improvement.

· Allow students to revise their work.

· Grade the end product once the student has had a chance to fully understand the content.

Why would we do this?

· There are many ways to assess students’ ability and knowledge.

· We want to assess students’ strengths and what they know.

· The goal isn’t to trick students. We want students to succeed in what we are trying to teach them.

· Assessing students’ strengths can help build confidence.

· Allowing students to re-do assignments and tests can ensure their knowledge of the content.

What are some helpful ideas while using this strategy?

· Create a rubric to help students identify requirements.

· Create clear guidelines and expectations when accepting do-over assignments.

"Because it is unlikely that one strategy operating in isolation is as effective as multiple interventions, it is recommended that school personnel investigate the combined effects of grouping practices and differentiated curriculum" (Cooper).

Feeling nervous about differentiating in your classroom?

If so, watch the following videos about differentiating!

Two Misconceptions about Differentiation
This video is of Carol-Ann Tomlinson, a guru of differentiation. She describes two misconceptions about differentiating that may help you feel comfortable to try it in your classroom.
Tips & Strategies for Effective Differentiation & Instruction.wmv
This video gives an overview of how differentiation can occur in your classroom and includes tips and strategies for successful differentiation.