Monday, 9 May 2016

What is Differentiated Instruction?

Differentiation is a teaching and learning process that is essential in today's diverse 21st century classroom.

Differentiation is a teaching and learning tool that is essential in today's diverse 21st century classroom.

According to the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards NSW (BOSTES), Differentiated Instruction

 ...involves forward planning, programming and instruction. 
It involves the use of teaching, learning and assessment strategies that are fair and flexible, provide an appropriate level of challenge, and engage 
students in learning in meaningful ways. Board of Studies NSW

Carol Ann Tomlinson, Chair of Educational Leadership, Foundations, and Policy at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, is the pioneer of differentiated instruction and has written extensively about this process.

The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners, 2nd Edition

Essentially, differentiation is all about finding the “differences” and helping students optimise their learning by working with the differences in the teaching and learning of academic content. Teachers can differentiate by attempting to either reteach or enrich content by providing extra lessons and activities as they work through a unit.

The differentiation process begins with some kind of formative pre-assessment. This will allow the teacher to check whether students have a complete understanding of the content or if they might need an enrichment and/or accelerated activity. Teachers can use this formative 'assessment' to find the gaps in a student's learning and plan for extra support, extra time for processing information or extra worksheets to practise a skill.

The following infographic found at Teach Thought clearly explains what differentiated instruction involves and identifies what things we might think are differentiation but are not. The information here comes from Carol Ann Tomlinson’s The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners, 2nd Edition.

The Definition Of Differentiated Instruction

The following infographic from ASCD shows the Characteristics of Differentiated Instruction.

Source: From The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners (2nd ed.,p. 20), by Tomlinson, C.A., 2014, Alexandria, VA

It is clear to see that differentiated instruction requires the use of a variety of teaching and learning strategies so that a diverse range of of learners are catered for. Differentiated Instruction must provide alternative methods and choices for students to demonstrate their knowledge, understanding and skills.

Here a few things to consider when planning your differentiated classes:
  • carefully consider using a wide range of resources and stimulus materials that will assist students to be creative, learn and engage
  • plan to use a wide range of activities and resources that will be appropriate for students with different learning needs and levels of achievement
  • consider how your different resources will encourage students to work at their own pace to develop their knowledge and understanding
  • consider ways to monitor learning over time 
  • think of ways to provide feedback that will help students identify their strengths and weaknesses

This graphic from The Second Grade Superkids provides a wide assortment of ideas as to how instruction can be differentiated for students.

The Second Grade Superkids: Differentiation Across the Subject Areas:

Here are some more ways that teachers can differentiate their classes:

1. Consider how the physical space of the classroom is structured and organised

2. Provide opportunities for individual, group and whole class work. Flexible groupings can happen when you target common interests, common learning preferences or readiness to learn. Flexibility is key; groups should be fluid and change depending on content and abilities.

3.  Providing opportunities for project-based learning (PBL).


4. Think of new and engaging ways to help your students acquiring and process content. Can they construct, create, perform, make, design or edit. Perhaps students could integrate ICT by conducting reserach, writing a script and making an imovie about new content? Allow your students to help develop materials and assessment tools so that everyone in the classroom can learn effectively, regardless of ability.

5. Some scholars and educators have disputed the currency and validity of Gardener's Multiple Intelligence theory but I think it's a great way to cater to the diverse groups of students we teach.

Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences theory can also help students study, prepare for assessment and retain information for longer. I believe it is an excellent pedagogical framework to consider when designing differentiated lessons for our different types of learners.

Learn about three different learning styles and see which best describes your child to help maximize his or her ability to learn.:

So, why should we differentiate our lessons and instructions? Well, I truly believe that our students will enjoy learning much more and potentially retain more information if we can continually ignite their curiosity or passion for learning and the attainment of knowledge. By encouraging them to work in their preferred manner and in their own learning style we will no doubt find that they have a clearer understanding of content. Surely that is reason enough to differentiate!

Best wishes,

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