Differentiate Why: Mr. Mack's students have different skill needs in writing and proofing. Thus, varying the errors provides him with an efficient way to move students along the skills continuum as quickly as possible. He also avoids undue boredom from unnecessary repetition of previously mastered skills, and he circumvents the confusion that occurs when the skills called for are beyond a student's readiness. His awareness of student readiness also allows him to convene various small groups for direct instruction on particular skills, and he can bring together groups with similar tasks for the purpose of checking work. Further, his students are highly motivated by his humor and the chance to help a peer do better with writing.
A second, somewhat more proficient, group has a similar activity. But they will encounter a greater number and complexity of missing words, including a few irregular verbs. Another group of students works with the same sentences as the second group, but virtually all of the sentences are in English and must be translated into German. Two or three students in Mrs. Higgins's classes don't need the skill drill. They are given a scenario to develop, with instructions about the sorts of grammatical constructions that must be included. They may develop the scenario for written or taped presentation to the teacher. A task that one group completes today may become homework for a less-advanced group within the next few days.
In differentiated classrooms, teachers begin where students are, not the front of a curriculum guide. They accept and build upon the premise that learners differ in important ways. Thus, they also accept and act on the premise that teachers must be ready to engage students in instruction through different learning modalities, by appealing to differing interests, and by using varied rates of instruction along with varied degrees of complexity. In differentiated classrooms, teachers ensure that a student competes against himself as he grows and develops more than he competes against other students.
All of these teachers are differentiating instruction. Perhaps they practiced differentiating instruction before it had a name, or without even knowing its name. They are teachers who strive to do whatever it takes to ensure that struggling and advanced learners, students with varied cultural heritages, and children with different background experiences all grow as much as they possibly can each day, each week, and throughout the year.
In differentiated classrooms, teachers provide specific ways for each individual to learn as deeply as possible and as quickly as possible, without assuming one student's road map for learning is identical to anyone else's. These teachers believe that students should be held to high standards. They work diligently to ensure that struggling, advanced, and in-between students think and work harder than they meant to; achieve more than they thought they could; and come to believe that learning involves effort, risk, and personal triumph. These teachers also work to ensure that each student consistently experiences the reality that success is likely to follow hard work.
The goals of differentiated instruction and innovative traditionalism are to ensure effective learning for all. Best practice learning adheres to 13 principles. Best practice is student-centered, experiential, holistic, authentic, expressive, reflective, social, collaborative, democratic, cognitive, developmental, constructivist, challenging with choices and students taking responsibility for their learning (Zemelman, Daniels, & Hyde, 1998, as cited in Wilcox & Wojnar, 2000).
The process of differentiation is challenging for educators, as it requires developing skills to teach in a flexible manner that responds to the unique needs of learners. Often total lessons or the pace of individual lessons need to be adjusted "on-the-fly." Teacher-led group instruction is only one model of instruction. So, teachers also need to know about additional resources beyond what's in the textbook or available in print format that can be used to help learners. For example, students can also learn from each other in collaborative groups, or from virtual instructors in online settings, or by working alone using software or apps. They can get different perspectives on a topic from viewing podcasts.
The principles and beliefs reflected in the previous section are still at work in the examples of differentiated instruction that follow. However, the next examples demonstrate a teacher's intent to integrate several or all levels of learning (facts, concepts, principles, attitudes, and skills) and to differentiate curriculum and instruction from that very rich starting point.
Acquiring this expertise will require that educators play greater attention to differentiated instruction. "Differentiated instruction is a process to approach teaching and learning for students of differing abilities in the same class. The intent of differentiating instruction is to maximize each student’s growth and individual success by meeting each student where he or she is, and assisting in the learning process." Educators who differentiate instruction strive to "recognize students varying background knowledge, readiness, language, preferences in learning, interests; and to react responsively" (Hall, Strangman, & Meyer, 2003, Definition section). As promoters of differentiated instruction, Carol Ann Tomlinson and Jay McTighe (2006) indicated that it is primarily an instructional design model that focuses on "whom we teach, where we teach, and how we teach" (p. 3). Tomlinson's website, , will enhance your knowledge of differentiated instruction. She also clarifies myths and misconceptions about differentiation in an ASCD podcast,.
Using video and audio to support multiple intelligences and varied learning preferences and disabilities is one of the strategies noted by Tomlinson and McTighe's (2006) to support differentiated instruction. Here's a sampling of video sites for your consideration in support of their recommendation:
"Differentiating instruction means creating multiple paths so that students of different abilities, interest or learning needs experience equally appropriate ways to absorb, use, develop and present concepts as a part of the daily learning process. It allows students to take greater responsibility and ownership for their own learning, and provides opportunities for peer teaching and cooperative learning" (para. 2).
Differentiate Why: Some students really need an additional, guided chance to practice basic, regular verb formation before moving on to other challenges. Other students are ready to grapple with the more complex and unpredictable irregular verbs. They can draw on a greater range of sentence elements and vocabulary. When she varies requirements by degrees of complexity, independence, and open-endedness, Mrs. Higgins ensures that all students escalate smoothly in skill from their current comfort levels. Having students work with readiness-appropriate tasks also enables her to better target direct instruction and monitor small groups. This process, which she uses every few days, ensures that students struggling with German don't add to their confusion and sense of failure by skipping steps of understanding. It also ensures that quick learners don't "stand still" and develop a sense of complacency with the language.