Differentiation means giving students multiple options for taking in information

Middle school teachers are often caught up in the dilemma of weighing content area expectations against the need to motivate students to become confident, curious learners. Differentiated instruction is an approach that addresses student needs and preferences while also respecting the high demands of accountability in our world of standards and standardized testing. Differentiation embraces many of the processes, strategies,

and approaches supported by best practice and research. While not confined to a single content area or a specific grade level, the differentiated approach to classroom instruction is one that can be applied to any content area at any grade level.

Teachers who differentiate are teachers who consider student learning preferences, abilities, styles, and interests. At the middle school level, teachers can implement a variety of processes to meet the learning attributes and characteristics of the diverse student population in their classrooms.


Once you’ve decided to include differentiation in your classroom routines, you are

confronted with the question: Okay, so what exactly can I differentiate? Differentiation

usually includes one or more of the following areas:

Content (what students learn)

– Includes curriculum topics, concepts, or themes

– Reflects state or national standards

– Presents essential facts and skills

– Differentiates by pre-assessing student skills and understandings, then matching learners with appropriate activities

– Provides students with choices in order to add depth to learning

– Provides students with additional resources that match their levels of understanding

Process (how students learn)

– Refers to how students make sense or understand the information, ideas, and skills being studied

– Reflects student learning styles and preferences

– Varies the learning process depending upon how students learn

Product (the end result of student learning)

– Tends to be tangible: reports, tests, brochures, speeches, skits

– Reflects student understanding

– Differentiates by providing challenge, variety, and choice

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Books for Further Reading

Differentiation in Practice: A Resource Guide for Differentiating Curriculum, Grades 5-9 - Carol Ann Tomlinson & Caroline Cunningham Eidson

The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All -Carol Ann Tomlinson and Jay McTighe

Fulfilling the Promise of the Differentiated Classroom: Strategies

and Tools for Responsive Teaching - Carol Ann Tomlinson

Exploring Differentiated Instruction - Cindy A. Strickland

How to Differentiate Instruction (2nd ed) - Carol Ann Tomlinson

Effective differentiation begins with reflective questioning about the curriculum content:

• What are the standards and goals for this unit?

• What are my students’ interests and talents?

• What pertinent background knowledge do they possess?

• What misconceptions are they likely to harbor?

Next, consider how students will receive information and demonstrate competency:

• How will I provide a range of materials?

• In what ways can students show me they have learned the content?

Finally, take into account the ways students will acquire strategic knowledge for independent learning:

• Where are the opportunities for students to work collaboratively?

• How will I expand metacognitive awareness of learning?

Through reflective planning, content area teachers can design engaging and effective units of study for their students.