If educators have learned anything in the last decade of school reform initiatives it is that one size does not fit all. Differentiated Instruction (DI) is an approach where teachers proactively plan varied approaches to what students need to learn, how they will learn it and how they express what they've learned.
Differentiated Instruction is teaching with the child in mind rather than adopting a standardized approach to teaching and learning that seems to presume that all students of a given age are at the exact same place academically. DI is responsive teaching.
Differentiated Instruction gives students a range of ways to access curriculum, instruction and assessment. DI engages students to interact and participate in the classroom in a richer way. It is based on the assumption that all students differ in their learning styles, strengths, needs and abilities and that classroom activities should be adapted to meet these differences.
Meet Michelle Rainey. A 10-year veteran who is NCATE Board Certified, she teaches 9th through 12th-grade English at Lawndale High School and also serves as one of the school's instructional coaches helping with aspects of curriculum and professional development. Here Michelle speaks about the importance of differentiated instruction.
- What exactly is scaffolding and why is it important?
- What does Rainey say happened to her students' work after she deliberately began scaffolding better in her teaching?
- How does Rainey use a whole-group model to show her students what it is she wants them to do? What is the purpose of her having students practice in smaller collaborative groups? Finally, what are ways she has students own the skills she wanted them to know at their independent level?
- How does Rainey move from the personal to the academic as a way to make her curriculum relevant to students?
Although some voice doubts, advocates say differentiated instruction can raise the bar for all learners.
In this article, freelance education writer Mary Anne Hess explains how differentiation works and that it benefits both learners and teachers.
- What does Hess mean when she states that differentiation is about "options"?
- How is differentiation a "fine motor skill" instead of a "gross motor skill"?
- Explain Hess' concept of "escalators, not stairwells."
- How do you think differentiated instruction helps with classroom management?
Learning Styles (pdf)
High School teacher, Michelle Rainey, presents the technique Say-Mean-Matter that she uses to help her English students understand and analyze text.
- How does Michelle say this technique helps her students to better access their assigned texts?
- What changes has she seen in students' work since she began to use such strategies and scaffolding her students' instruction?
- How could you use this strategy in your own classroom?
- Are there students with whom you would hesitate to use Say-Mean-Matter? Why?
National Board Certified elementary school teacher, Kristen Miller, shares how she uses cubing to build higher-order thinking skills with her students.
- What new skills does Kristin say her students build through cubing?
- What is the overall objective of the lesson in which Kristen used cubing?
- With what lesson plans might you use cubing in your classroom?
- How might you present the ideas on the cube without a visual aid? Would it be as effective?
Wheel alternative to the cube, using Bloom's taxonomy for task-oriented question construction
Blank wheel template for use on wall or handout
Interactive read aloud places more responsibility on students to share what they are thinking in a way that simulates an authentic reading experience.
Since successful readers read, monitor their comprehension, pause, think about what they have read, and resume reading, teachers can simulate this in a read aloud at any grade level. In this way, teachers who invite more student participation enable students to "pause" the read aloud to share what they are thinking and to "restart" the read aloud when the thought has been sufficiently considered.
National Board Certified 6th Grade teacher, Talitha Simeona-Moon, describes how she uses interactive reading to engage her students and increase their higher order thinking skills.
(Please note that the term "ESOL" refers to students learning English as a second language.)
- What skills and/or vocabulary does Talitha present to her students before she begins the lesson?
- How does Talitha say this strategy helps her students learning English as a second language? What role does peer support play and why is it important?
- How does this strategy build on students' prior knowledge? How might you adapt this strategy to scaffold student learning even more?
- What other books might you use with this strategy? How might the selection of different text impact the effectiveness of the lesson?
- Do you think that the impromptu and active nature of the response would or could impede student learning in your class?
Bud, not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. ($6.99) A 10-year-old boy in Depression-era Michigan sets out to find the man he believes to be his father. Newbery Medal Award Winner 2000. Published by Yearling. ISBN-10: 043940200X ISBN-13: 978-0439402002
Using Primary Sources
Listen as 4th Grade teacher, Kristen Miller, describes using a viewfinder to help her students test the reliability of primary source art in her social studies classroom.
- How does Kristen say that the viewfinder helps her students to assess the reliability of the primary source art in her classroom?
- Why does she say performing such tests is important?
- How does the use of the viewfinder and resulting discussion help students to develop their higher order thinking skills?
- With what lessons might you use a visual evaluation aid such as a viewfinder?
- What are some other techniques that might help your students assess the reliability of primary sources?
Viewfinder template (pdf)
Why use primary sources? (pdf)