Differentiated Instruction

Image by:  Grant Cochrane


Lately, I’ve spending time preparing for the 2012 – 2013 school year.  Last week I had a conversation with a teacher in another district about student achievement data, specifically MAP data.  We discussed similarities/differences in general student achievement data.  The achievement data inside a typical elementary classroom can range significantly.

This data along with teacher input can bring awareness to academic strengths and concerns.  Educators are responsible for teaching all students regardless of prior knowledge.  I think most stakeholders would agree that prior academic background knowledge vastly impacts instruction and pacing.  What happens if that prior knowledge is missing, partial or incorrect?

All students in a classroom should have the opportunity to experience success.  That success depends on the environment and instruction that occurs throughout the school year.  What do teachers proactively do to meet the needs of all students in their classroom?  Treating all students to the same instruction, same assignments, assigning same goals, same homework, same _____ doesn’t help all students meet their potential. I’ve found that differentiating my instruction is one way to meet the diverse needs of students.   What does differentiation look like in the classroom?  “Differentiated Instruction is matching instruction to meet the needs of individual learners ” –FCRR.  I’ve included strategies with links for more information on differentiated instruction below.

The links below have been helpful in writing this post.

Gifted Differentiation  GT Webinar  Instruction for Gifted Learners  Flexing Differentiation Ideas for Teaching

Differentiated Instruction

Image by Luigi Diamanti

As an educator, part of my job is to meet students’ academic needs.  Every educator, at one time or another, asks the question – how can I meet the needs of all the students that enter my classroom?  That’s a tough questions to answer, with multiple answers, depending on your philosophy of education.  To start, you need to understand the current skill level of your students.  You might want to give some type of pre-assessment to determine what type of skills that the students possess. A lot of vital data can be extracted by analyzing student assessment data.  Student assessment data can often drive school-wide instructional decisions.  Once assessment data has been collected and analyzed, you can begin to start to differentiate and individualize instruction.  Differentiated instruction is an educational buzz word that has been around for quite some time now.  What does it actually mean and isn’t it subjective?  Here are a few definitions:


“Differentiated instruction is a teaching theory based on the premise that instructional approaches should vary and be adapted in relation to individual and diverse students in classrooms” – Carol Anne Tomlinson

Differentiating instruction ….”Maximize(s) each student’s growth by recognizing that students have different ways of learning, different interests, and different ways of responding to instruction”  – Diane Ravitch

“Rather than simply teaching to the middle by providing a single avenue for learning for all students in a class, teachers using differentiated instruction match tasks, activities, and assessments with their students’ interests, abilities, and learning preferences” Jennipher Willoughby


Throughout this post, I’m going to show one way to differentiate instruction in the classroom. Specifically, via a flexible grouping strategy.

After utilizing a pre-assessment, or some type of formative assessment, you can use the results to begin to group the students based on skill level.  Generally, different “flexible” groups are created based on the skill level of each student. Each group will work towards achieving or mastering specific skills related to the curriculum.  For example, one group might work on basic computation strategies related to practical application problems, another might practice critical thinking skills, and another group may complete enrichment projects related to statistics.  What each group works on should focus on improving students’ skills.  Student groups are fluid and can change throughout the school year as additional student data is collected.  Individuals in each group will set their own goals through a goal setting process.  By engaging in goal setting, students are given the opportunity to gain responsibility for their own learning.  Shifting some of the responsibility to the student gives ownership, therefore assisting in intrinsically motivating a student to achieve their goal.

This is only one form of differentiated instruction.  I’ve provided a list of resources on differentiated instruction below.

Disclaimer (unfortunate but necessary) : The thoughts and opinions expressed in these pages are my own, and not necessarily the opinions of my employers.