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Why do we need Differentiated Instruction?

According to Tomlinson et al. (2003) our students fall into one or more of the following categories:


Advanced learners


Motivated vs. unmotivated


Underachieving students


Learning disabilities


English-language learners


Culturally and/or economically diverse backgrounds


Gender differences


At or below grade-level standards


“Differentiated classrooms are responsive to students’ varying readiness levels, varying interests, and varying learning profiles.”(Tomlinson & Kalbfleisch, 1998) To differentiate instruction teachers should adapt teaching methods to fit students’ motivation and their levels of pre-requisite knowledge. Those lacking pre-requisite knowledge may need more guided instruction and support. To account for cultural differences, you should be very explicit in your directions and expectations. To accommodate a variety of academic and extracurricular interests, ensure that students have multiple opportunities to display their talents and pursue these interests within projects.


You can also differentiate learning according to learning style. “When teachers allow learners to solve problems using the learners’ preferred intelligence, they provide scaffolding and create more opportunities for their students to be successful.” (Morgan, 2014)


Traditional classroom settings focus mainly on logical/mathematical and verbal/linguistic learning styles.

nYou can incorporate visual/spatial learning styles by giving students manipulatives to aid learning (For example, number cubes in math).


You can incorporate bodily/kinesthetic learning styles by providing students with hands-on experiences.


You can incorporate intra- and inter-personal learning styles by giving students the opportunity to work in groups and teach each other.


You can even incorporate musical learning styles by finding songs that relate to your topic, or by allowing students to create their own songs to share with the class!

Goal Adaptations to the General Curriculum

Prioritized Curriculum

Enriched Curriculum

Used to integrate gifted students


Use cooperative groups so they can “teach” others


Give students opportunities to display their talents


To avoid “parallel instruction,” don’t isolate

students by giving them specialized work every day


Avoid fixed groups based on ability levels

Used to integrate ESE students


Focus on what is “most critical” for each student, according to their IEP


Focus on curriculum AND functional skills in a natural environment


Use modified tests, taped books, and other assistive technology


To avoid “parallel instruction,” have students complete relevant tasks at different levels

Add Structure to the Curriculum

Prioritize the most important concepts & skills


Provide clear expectations and examples


Breakdown specific skills & concepts


Teach learning strategies


Make specific connections with prior knowledge


Increase independence by fading out assistance slowly


DI allows students with a wide range of abilities to achieve the same standards while learning at their own pace.



DI provides additional support to those who need it.


Teaching to students’ varying learning styles and interests keeps students more motivated and helps them to achieve more.



Differentiated Instruction requires a lot of planning and preparation on the teachers’ part.


Lots of in-class time is needed to give the students formative assessments, rearrange the class based on the task, etc.


DI can be easily misused, such as when parallel activities isolate students instead of integrating them into the classroom.



Different Students Require Different Approaches to Learning


Lawrence-Brown, D. (2004). Differentiated instruction: Inclusive strategies for standards-based learning that benefit the whole class. American Secondary Education, Vol. 32, No. 3, pp. 34-62.


Morgan, H. (2014). “Maximizing student success with differentiated learning.” The Clearing House: A Journal of Education Strategies, Issues, and Ideas. Vol. 87, No. 1: Pages 34-38.


Ormrod, J. E. (2012). Human Learning (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.


Tomlinson, C., & Kalbfleisch, M. L. (1998). “Teach me, teach my brain: A call for differentiated classrooms.” Educational Leadership, pp. 52-55.


Tomlinson, C. A., Brighton, C., Hertberg, H., Callahan, C. M., Moon, T. R., Brimijoin, K., ... Reynolds, T. (2003). “Differentiating instruction in response to student readiness, interest, and learning profile in academically diverse classrooms: A review of literature.” Journal of the Education of the Gifted, Vol. 27, No. 2-3, pp. 119-145.

Using a Variety of Teaching Strategies is especially important in the 21st-century education system where advanced research has allowed us to determine the different strategies that have been proven effective.


Teaching that involves using a variety of teaching strategies is crucial in this era of teaching. Some of the teaching strategies include discovery learning, direct instruction, cooperative learning, Socratic seminars, the integration of technology, active learning, etc. Traditionally teachers have used Direct Instruction as their main method of instruction. Direct instruction has a place in learning. However, scientific research has shown that students only retain about 5% of the information presented.


According to the Learning Pyramid, which explains the average retention rate, people retain 5% of what they hear from a lecture, 10% from reading, 20% from audio-visual, 30% from demonstration, 50% from discussion groups, 75% by doing it themselves and 90% by teaching others. The illustration of this information is below.



















With this information, we as teachers must employ a variety of teaching strategies in our classrooms. This site will provide a variety of activities, strategies, lesson plans, task that may include the use of manipulatives (physical and/or virtual), educational websites, literature, videos/movies, etc. Each of these strategies should involve some form of differentiated instruction.


Differentiated instruction (also known as differentiated learning or, in education, simply, differentiation) is a framework or philosophy for effective teaching that involves providing different students with different avenues to learning (often in the same classroom) in terms of acquiring content; processing, constructing, or making sense of ideas; and developing teaching materials and assessment measures so that all students within a classroom can learn effectively, regardless of differences in ability. Students may vary in culture, socioeconomic status, language, gender, motivation, ability/disability, personal interests and more, and teachers must be aware of these varieties as they plan curriculum. Click below for more information on differentiated instruction.



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