Differentiated Instruction

By: Karleen Vaughn

What is Differentiated Instruction?

On the most basic level, differentiation means customizing instruction to meet the individual needs of a student. In the webinar, Beyond Differentiated Instruction, Robyn Jackson, Ph.D, compares differentiation to the cell phone. She says that traditional differentiated instruction is similiar to traditional cell phones.

In the past, if you wanted a phone for a specific purpose you found a phone that was made for that specific purpose. So, the market had a lot of cell phones and each was meant for a specific task. Now if we transfer that metaphor back to instruction, teachers were finding that students were struggling with different needs and were in turn creating new lessons to focus on each need. This traditional way can be exhausting and inefficient. However, Robyn says that we should really be looking into customization and in our cell phone metaphor, that looks like the iPhone. It is only available in two colors and comes with a few basic apps. If you want a different color, you buy a case or skin. If you want to play music, take pictures, play games, or search the internet, there is an app for that. With the availability of the apps, Apple is allowing each user to customize the device so that it suits all of their needs. According to Dr. Jackson, this is what a differentiated classroom should look like. We as educators should be providing our students with one lesson, one unit, or one assignment. However, if a student is struggling, there's an app for that. If a kid needs more challenge or help with soft skills, there is an app for that.

Now we are looking at Differentiation as creating one lesson and providing an "app" or support for kids to access that part of the lesson.

Three Steps to Get Started

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My Webinar Experience

I found the webinar entitled, Beyond Differentiated Instruction, on the ASCD website. I chose this topic because it is of great focus in my school system right now. I am also a special education teacher and use this technique on a daily basis. I was not able to participate in the webinar when it was live so my experience is from a recording on their website. I found the format to be appealing and I can see how participating live would have added to the experience. This webinar had built in quiz questions and easily accomplished the task of keeping my attention. I enjoyed the speaker very much. She was very well spoken and seemed very educated. She spoke clearly and did not go overboard or get off task. I am a bullet point kind of person and have a hard time focusing when the speaker adds a lot of fluff. I also found it very useful to be able to pause the presentation the twelve times that my sweet, adorable, and not so patient children insisted on asking me questions.

As for the content, I found her presentation very useful. My principal focused on this quite a bit during our observations this past year and I know I could use some improvement. I think for a lot of us, we immediately think that we have to create all these different lessons for each standard. Watching and listening to this webinar helped me to realize that what I really need to do is write one really good standard based plan and then add small supports or strategies into to help my students master the standard.


Differentiated Instruction and Implications for UDL Implementation

By Tracey Hall, Nicole Strangman, and Anne Meyer

I particularly like the flow chart that is included in this article. It gives very easily identified steps to differentiate a lesson. There are also several tables that provide a vast array of ideas for customizing.

Differentiating Instruction: Meeting Students Where They Are

By Jennipher Willoughby

This is a Teaching Today article from Glencoe. It is an excellent introduction to the art of Differentiated Instruction. The article very clearly states that the teacher should be providing several different paths to learning. NOT developing separate lesson plans for each student. Teachers should also provide appropriate levels of challenge and make sure not to “water down” the content for our lower students.

Differentiated Instruction

American Federation of Teachers

This is a topic on ReadingRockets.org. I like this resource because it contains a video of an interview with Carol Connor, Ph.D., about tier I interventions. I think she hits on an important note about teachers being able to successfully differentiate in small group or during level II interventions but experience difficulty at being able to perform this task in a tier I setting. She recommends using centers with one rotation being teacher focused and I know that as a teacher of the READ180 program, this definitely works!