Differentiation is the practice of tailoring instruction to diverse learners based on student readiness, interest, and learning styles. This article discusses the four areas in which teachers can differentiate instruction and includes links to resources that support differentiation.
Differentiation is the practice of tailoring instruction to diverse learners based on student readiness, interest, and learning styles. Differentiation is often discussed in terms of assisting students with exceptionalities, such as learning disabilities, gifts and talents, and emotional disorders.
Before differentiating, the teacher evaluates students for learning styles, aptitudes, and interests. Learning styles can be evaluated by instruments such as the Myers-Briggs indicator and Kersley’s Temperament Sorter, while aptitudes can be highlighted by using Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. Assessment tests can identify specific learning disabilities.
Once a teacher understands the needs of each of her students, there are myriad ways for differentiating instruction across the four areas of process, content, product, and environment:
- The combination of activities and input from the teacher that engage the learner in the content. One approach to differentiating by process is tiering instruction, which adjusts the process across the different levels of learning taking place in the classroom. Using tiering allows the teacher to address the same content with students at different stages of learning. Additionally, teachers can use group work and peering systems to have higher achieving students help students who have difficulties.
- The information that must be learned. Content itself can be differentiated by allowing students to work on their own interests and making work relevant to their future career choices. Teachers can also differentiate content when teaching literacy skills by choosing texts that are appropriate and engaging to students’ interests.
- The outcomes of student learning that demonstrate understanding or mastery. Alternative assessments are examples of differentiating product; teachers may require portfolios or demonstrations rather than standard tests to evaluate student learning.
- The physical climate and set-up of the classroom. Differentiation can occur when teachers adjust the environment to accommodate students with special learning needs, such as arranging the classroom to assist a deaf student. Teachers may also decide to arrange desks in particular patterns to encourage peer work or seat students due to their attention needs.
The LEARN NC website includes a number of resources on differentiating instruction.