Differentiated Instruction: An Introduction Module 1 Reading: What Is Differentiated Instruction and Why Differentiate?What Is Differentiated Instruction and WhyDifferentiate?Most young children in their first year of school can look around their classrooms andeasily point out who can already read well; who can draw neatly inside the lines; whostruggles with counting; and who likes to find the most yucky, yet fascinating, bugs.Throughout their school education, students also remain aware of their owndifferences related to learning readiness, interests, and learning profiles.Educators have been intrigued and challenged by this diversity but have not alwaysadequately responded to student varied needs. Instead, we tend to rely on the teachto-the-middle or one-size-fits-all approach, expecting all students to do the sameactivity, work at the same pace, do the same homework, and take the same test.Typically, the result is frustration on the part of many students—those who find thework unchallenging and therefore boring, those who find the work too challenging, andthose whose learning styles or strengths are not engaged. And there is frustration onthe part of teachers because they are not reaching every student. So, in their searchto create genuinely challenging and engaging learning experiences for their students,many teachers have discovered that they can better meet the diverse needs of theirstudents by differentiating instruction.What Is Differentiated Instruction?In the video Creating Multiple Paths for Learning (1997), Carol Ann Tomlinson, noteddifferentiation expert, says that differentiating instruction means that the teacheranticipates the differences in students' readiness, interests, and learning profiles and,as a result, creates different learning paths so that students have the opportunity tolearn as much as they can as deeply as they can, without undue anxiety because theassignments are too taxing—or boredom because they are not challenging enough.
Differentiated Instruction: An Introduction Module 1 Reading: What Is Differentiated Instruction and Why Differentiate?Page 2She cautions, however, that differentiated instruction is not individualized instruction.Students may have two or three learning options some days, but never 21 or 35different options.“Differentiation can be accurately described as classroom practice with a balancedemphasis on individual students and course content,” write Carol Ann Tomlinson andMarcia B. Imbeau in their book Leading and Managing a Differentiated Classroom(2010). The need for the balanced emphasis isevident through the diversity students bring tothe classroom: “Students differ as learners interms of background experience, culture,language, gender, interests, readiness to learn,modes of learning, speed of learning, supportsystems for learning, self-awareness as alearner, confidence as a learner, independenceas a learner, and a host of other ways” (p. 13).Most important, these differences will“profoundly affect how students learn and theDifferentiated instructionis a way of thinking aboutteaching and learning.It is also a model thatguides instructionalplanning in responseto students’ needs.nature of scaffolding they will need at variouspoints in the learning process.”Essentially, the aim of differentiating instructionis to maximize the growth of all students by meeting them where they are. To do so,Tomlinson and Imbeau (2010) suggest that teachers continually ask, “What does thisstudent need at this moment in order to be able to progress with this key content, andwhat do I need to do to make that happen?” (p. 13).Key Characteristics of Differentiated InstructionDifferentiation can look very different in various classrooms because teachers usenumerous strategies and tools to differentiate instruction. Regardless of the specificcombination of techniques, however, effectively differentiated classrooms share
Differentiated Instruction: An Introduction Module 1 Reading: What Is Differentiated Instruction and Why Differentiate?Page 3several key characteristics. These characteristics are described in How to Differentiatein Mixed-Ability Classrooms by Carol Ann Tomlinson (2001) and are summarized inthe table below:CharacteristicExample or ExplanationDifferentiatedinstruction isproactive.The teacher proactively plans differentiation to address a varietyof learning needs—as opposed to adjusting a lesson plan when itbecomes clear that it’s not working for some students.Differentiatedinstruction is morequalitative thanquantitative.DI involves adjusting the quality of an assignment to matchstudent needs—not varying the quantity of work. For example, astruggling reader may need additional support for reading andwriting a book report. An advanced student who has mastered onemath skill, instead of doing more assignments that are too easy forhim, can practice another skill.Differentiatedinstruction is rootedin assessment.Since addressing student individual needs is at the core of DI,teachers look for every opportunity to get to know their studentsbetter—through conversations with students, classroomdiscussions, student work, observation, and formal assessment.Then, teachers design and modify learning experiences basedon assessment findings. Each student's progress is measured, atleast in part, from where that student begins.Differentiatedinstruction providesmultiple approachesto content, process,product, andaffect/learningenvironment.At the core of DI is the modification of four elements—content(what students learn), process (how do students make sense of theinformation and ideas), product (how they show what they’velearned) and affect/learning environment (the climate or tone inthe classroom). This modification is based on assessment ofstudent differences in readiness, interest, and learning profile.Differentiatedinstruction is studentcentered.All students participate in respectful work—work that ischallenging, meaningful, interesting, and engaging. Tasks are basedon students’ prior knowledge and are designed with the level ofchallenge appropriate for the student.The teacher primarily coordinates time, space, and activities,rather than provides information. Pacing varies based on students’needs. The goal is to help students become self-reliant learners andto share the responsibility for their learning.
Differentiated Instruction: An Introduction Module 1 Reading: What Is Differentiated Instruction and Why Differentiate?Page 4CharacteristicExample or ExplanationDifferentiatedinstruction is a blendof whole-class,group, and individualinstruction.The teacher uses a variety of instructional strategies to help targetinstruction to students’ needs. Students work in a variety of groupconfigurations, as well as independently. Flexible grouping isevident.Differentiatedinstruction is“organic.”Teaching constantly evolves through collaboration betweenstudents and teachers, which includes setting class and individualgoals. Teachers monitor how learning fits the student and makeadjustments, where necessary.Addressing Common Misunderstandings About DifferentiationMost teachers instinctively understand the need for differentiation. Mounting evidencealso indicates that consistent, high-quality use of the differentiation model increasesstudent motivation, satisfaction, and achievement. Still, there are somemisunderstandings about what differentiation is and isn’t. Carol Ann Tomlinson andMarcia Imbeau present these in Leading and Managing a Differentiated tion is a set ofinstructional strategies.Differentiation is a philosophy—a way of thinking aboutteaching and learning. It is, in fact, a set of principles.It’s adequate for a district or schoolleader (or professional developers)to tell or show teachers how todifferentiate instruction effectively.Effective differentiation requires rethinking one’sclassroom practice and outcomes through ongoing trial,reflection, and adjustment in the classroom itself.Differentiation is something ateacher does or doesn’t do (as in, “Ialready do that,” or “I tell ourteachers that they alreadydifferentiate instruction.”)Most experienced teachers do pay attention to studentvariation and respond to it in some way—especiallywith students who can disrupt the classroom. However,few teachers proactively plan instruction to consistentlyaddress student differences.
Differentiated Instruction: An Introduction Module 1 Reading: What Is Differentiated Instruction and Why Differentiate?Page 5MisunderstandingDifferentiation is just aboutinstruction.RealityAlthough differentiation is an instructional approach thatresponds to student differences, effective differentiatedinstruction is inseparable from a welcoming, supportive,and challenging learning environment; high-qualitycurriculum; ongoing assessment that informs theteacher’s decision making; and leadership and flexibleclassroom management. These elements areinterrelated. If any one of those elements is weak, theothers are also diminished.Source: Tomlinson & Imbeau, 2010, p. 13.Remember: Differentiated instruction is a way of thinking about teaching and learning.It is also a model that guides instructional planning in response to students’ needs.This comprehensive model is illustrated through the concept map display on the nextpage. We will explore this model through the remaining modules.
Differentiated Instruction: An Introduction Module 1 Reading: What Is Differentiated Instruction and Why Differentiate?Page 6Created by Carol Ann Tomlinson. Reprinted with permission.