Differentiated instruction is a topic that raises many questions. How do we align achievement of learning outcomes with diverse student needs? How does a teacher navigate learning, cultural, and economic diversity? How can we get 100% of our students to the finish line properly?

We are seeing the differences in learning styles and other factors that make classrooms more challenging. We are also faced with an expectation of all our students meeting standards. Let’s frame a perspective on differentiated instruction below.

What Differentiated Instruction Is and Is Not

Differentiated instruction is:

  • A design focused on patterns of student need
  • A response to learner variance
  • A versatile approach to instruction that can take many forms
  • A student-focused way of looking at teaching and learning
  • A balance between the needs of teacher and student
  • A desire to give every student a chance to succeed

Differentiated instruction is not:

  • Incompatible with standards and testing
  • More work for some students and less for others
  • An approach that makes students lazy or dependent
  • A fancy term for individualization
  • Just another form of group instruction

Differentiated Instruction and Adaptive Learning

Created by Knewton

Power and Versatility in Differentiated Instruction

In the past, traditional education fostered a whole-group instructional approach. It made sense long ago. The purpose of the school system was to create industrial workers. Many of these workers would perform the same tasks every day for much of their lives.

Today, all teachers must differentiate their instruction to some degree. We still teach in groups. Today, though, we teach a different student in those groups. The digital learner is unique, challenging, and rewarding to have as a student. Now we nurture problem-solvers, independent thinkers, and entrepreneurs. Part of making this happen requires differentiated instruction approaches.

Before you dive into differentiated instruction, you’ve got to know where your students are at.

Teachers will always begin with a pre-assessment of some kind. They’ll quiz or survey students to find out different things. These include current knowledge, preferences, learning styles, and others. This knowledge helps them design the most engaging lessons possible.

As stated earlier, differentiation takes on many different forms. Teachers can differ lesson content, process, and curriculum. They can change things a little or a lot. It doesn’t have to be something that happens all day every day. Continuing formative assessment practices help determine where and when to differentiate.

Before we go, here are some resources to explore:

Differentiated instruction requires patience and passion. It means meeting students at every level to help them achieve new heights. Start small, with one approach. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen over time. This is what truly powerful learning is. Not a quick fix, but rather a meaningful lifelong journey.


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