Differentiated Instruction

Created by Marianne Tillman

Spring 2003

 

Differentiated Instruction – An Overview

 


Glossary of Terms

Adjusting Questions

Curriculum Compacting

Learning Contracts

Anchoring Activity

Cubing & Extension Menus

Literature Circles

Assessment

Flexibility

Socratic Seminar

Choice Activities

Grouping

Tiered Lessons/Activities

Centers

Independent Study

 

 

 

Differentiated Instruction – An Overview

            Carol Ann Tomlinson, a leader in the area of differentiated instruction, defines differentiation as a way of teaching in which teachers proactively modify curriculum, teaching methods, resources, learning activities, and student products to address the needs of individual students and/or small groups of students to maximize the learning opportunity for each student in the classroom. Differentiation is not a strategy but rather a commitment to a philosophy that will motivate students by meeting them where they are and getting them where they need to go, whether they are advanced learners, struggling students, or students from varied backgrounds and cultures. Differentiation is the key to meeting the diverse needs of the learners that we find in today’s classrooms.

 

            In order to successfully differentiate classrooms teachers must first:

·        recognize the need to differentiate

·        build a community of learners that respects individual differences and needs

·        become proficient at identifying and understanding the needs of varied learners

·        identify key concepts, skills, and principles to be learned

·        become proficient at implementing differentiation strategies

·        learn how to manage a differentiated classroom

 

You will know that you are differentiating when you are providing more small group activities and these groups are flexible from activity to activity based on a variety of pre-assessment strategies. There will also be an increase in individual alternatives such as centers, contracts, independent study, and even homework assignments.

You will know that you have been successful at differentiating when: you begin to see yourself as an organizer of learning opportunities rather than the “sage on the stage”; your assessment and instruction become inseparable; you have created a community of learners who respect the individual differences within your classroom and can work independently according to the working conditions developed for your classroom; and finally, all your students, whether they are below, at, or above grade level, are feeling challenged and motivated to reach their maximum potential by learning new, meaningful, and essential concepts, principles, and skills.

 

The following website contains differentiated lessons that have been created by teachers participating in “Design for Differentiation”, a Goals 2000 Professional Development Project: http://www.sricboces.org/Goals2000/.


A GLOSSARY OF DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION TERMS

 

Adjusting Questions

This is one of the easiest ways for a teacher to help students meet with success but also a way to challenge higher-level students with the use of open-ended, divergent questions. By asking questions appropriate to a student’s readiness or ability level, questions can be adjusted to the level of complexity or abstractness that fits that child. Good questions are worthy of being answered. It is important to give students wait time and to sometimes allow students the opportunity to pair with a partner for discussion before answering a question. Essential, thought-provoking questions can connect a new concept with the content to be learned and drive the success level upward for students by creating important connections between new content and content previously learned.

 

Anchoring activity

An anchoring activity is exactly what it sounds like – a meaningful activity that is meant to be done by students independently in order to allow the teacher to work with individual students or small groups of students. In other words, students are anchored to an activity. Students must be well versed in the ground rules of working independently. The teacher must make adequate preparations so that students are quite clear about the task, and the instructions for completing the task, and have a plan for monitoring and managing the activity.  Examples of anchoring activities may include the following:

·        Reading

·        Journal Writing

·        Keeping a Process Log

·        Working on a Portfolio

·        Working on a Learning Packet or Task Card

·        Working at a Learning or Interest Center

·        Practicing skills related to content that students learned in their small group lessons

·        Working on an Extension Menu or Cubing activity, or Task Cards

 

Assessment

            Many teachers think of assessment as “summative”, that is, something we determine at the end of teaching. In a differentiated classroom we need to think of assessment as diagnostic and informative. In order to be informed about how learning is progressing teachers need to think of assessment as on going and varied and ideally embedded in the curriculum (a lab report is a good example). By varying the types of assessment procedures all children can be given an opportunity to show their learning. It is also helpful to think of assessment along a continuum that begins with what is to be taught and ends with opportunities to show learning has taken place. Pre-assessment, checks for understanding along the way (this could be a simple thumbs-up or an exit card with a question about what was leaned today or what a student didn’t understand today), teacher observation and questions, on-going assignments, peer and self assessment, quizzes, tests, performance and alternative assessments, all contribute to fully understanding a student’s grasp of material.

 

 

Choice Activities

            Choice can be a great motivator for students to participate. Students can be given options based on learning style or interest. They may also be given content choices as to what will be learned (ideas, concepts, facts, rules, principles) or how what they will learn will be enriched (depth, complexity, novelty, or acceleration).

The processes for how content will be learned may include the learning activities, questions, thinking skills, and methods such as problem-based learning, Socratic method, simulations, independent study, centers, videos, texts, expert mentors, or small groups.

The outcome of learning can provide opportunities for products that show the content or skill that has been learned. Options for showing learning in a preferred learning style or talent area or with a partner/group may improve motivation for many students.

 

Centers

            Centers can be found in many shapes, sizes, and locations in a classroom. They contain materials and activities meant to reinforce or enrich content and skills being learned. They can also serve to reinforce concepts previously learned. Centers can be based on interest and serve to motivate students exploration of new topics through choice. Centers allow students to work at their own pace. Teachers need to be sure that students can work independently, without disturbing classmates. Examples of centers may include: computer, writing, art, listening, reading, science or math centers. Centers should be clearly organized (directions), focus on learning goals and essential questions, provide for learning preferences, and allow for keeping track of student work through the use of Learning Logs, Journals, or some type of end-product. Even students can create centers for other students!  Learning Contracts work well with centers. (Centers are different from stations in that stations are part of a whole concept, topic, or theme being taught. Students rotate through the stations in steps as part of a unit of instruction. Centers, on the other hand, exist as separate entities devoted to providing alternative activities to students.)

 

Curriculum Compacting

            The most important thing to remember about curriculum compacting is that it is not meant to provide an opportunity for busy work or leisure time. It is meant to give students time to accomplish meaningful work rather than relearning material they may already know. Compacting can be used in any subject area in which the teacher can assess competency or knowledge about a given topic to be studied. It is also most useful for high-ability learners or any student with an unusual knowledge base on a given topic. By giving students a chance to show what they know we can then provide them with interesting, creative, and challenging work equal to their ability. Compacting means that the teacher needs to:

  1. Pre-assess all or some of the students for pre-existing knowledge and understanding of the selected learning objectives. “The most difficult first” strategy is another method for allowing students to prove mastery. (The classroom teacher will have to decide who to test and what constitutes mastery – 90%, 95%?).
  2. Provide extension activities and lessons for more in-depth learning of the topic or, in some cases, accelerate the student through the material.
  3. Keep records of student progress and what the student is learning in place of the mastered material.
  4. Be sure that students understand the rules for working on alternate activities.

 

Cubing and Extension Menus

            Both of these strategies serve the same purpose and that is to provide alternate activities to students who have finished their work or are doing alternative work while you are meeting with small groups. Cubes and extension menus can also be part of learning/interest centers. The menu boxes or the sides of the cube provide possible activities for students to complete. A “menu of possibilities” can be organized around a current topic of study or provide extension activities related to a topic. Students must know the rules for working independently. The following is an example of a menu of alternative activities, covering many different subject areas, created by our own teachers at a Differentiation workshop.

 

Elementary Extension Menu Example

Make a book of math word problems on a topic we are currently studying for your classmates to solve.

                  

Create an award for your favorite book or book character that would encourage others to read the book.

Create a comic strip to describe the attributes of your favorite mammal.

Create a timeline chain showing the order of events of the life of a famous person. Use one link for each major event.

                            

 

 

Student Choice

Illustrate a flipbook about the life cycle of a butterfly.

Create a Venn diagram comparing our culture with a different culture.

 

Survey your classmates about their favorite ______. Create a graph displaying your findings.

 

 

Recreate the flag of a city or state. On the back write important facts about the state or city.

 

 

Flexibility

            Flexibility may be the key element to effectively implementing differentiated instruction. Flexibility implies the ability to make adjustments and that’s what differentiated instruction is all about. This flexibility may manifest itself in the form of the flexible use of time, materials, approaches or groups. Flexible groups can be determined by readiness, interest, skill, student, teacher, or by learning style. Flexible grouping requires pre-assessment in order to make decisions about students’ instructional needs. Examples of pre-assessment strategies may include: pretests created by the teacher or the use of a post-assessment test prior to beginning a new topic/unit; KWL charts; writing prompts; questioning; “exit cards”; debates; focus groups; teacher observation/checklists; student demonstrations and discussions; questionnaires; interviews; student products and work samples; and portfolios. By varying groups, the teacher can ensure that all students will learn how to work collaboratively and cooperatively. By assigning different roles within groups students will also learn how to work independently and with responsibility towards a group of their peers. The ways to group students is endless – in fact there is a video entitled Small Group Activities for Differentiating Instruction available through The Office of Teaching and Learning (created by Teacher Education Resources).

 

Grouping        

            The key to grouping in a differentiated classroom is flexibility. Groups will vary with topic (based on preassessment), interest, learning style, readiness, ability, etc. In order for small groups to function there must be adequate preparation for students in role responsibilities and opportunities for reflecting on the success of a group’s efforts through established criteria. Groups can vary from pairs, triads, groups of four, or even larger groups for instructional purposes. For a teacher’s manual and video entitled “Small Group Activities for Differentiating Instruction” please call “The Office of Teaching and Learning. (Here is a listing of some of the grouping ideas: “Numbered Heads”, “Russian Roulette”, “Stand and Share”, “Spontaneous Lectures”, “Inside-Outside Circles”, “Group Reporters”, “Jigsaw”, “K-W-L”, “Solution Sort”, “Three Step Interviews”, and 15 more ideas for reviewing, assessing, motivating, debriefing, problem solving, etc.

 

Independent Study

            An independent study is correctly defined as “an opportunity to choose and investigate a topic of your own interest for the purpose of creating something new with the gathered information”. Prior to beginning an independent study the classroom teacher needs to be sure that his/her students are proficient in a number of skills required to complete such a project. Practice and instruction at using these skills is important. Note taking, outlining, interview skills, letter writing skills, research skills to locate, record and organize information are essential to a successful independent study. Before beginning such a study you might want to conduct an interest inventory to help students select a topic for study. Keeping a Process Log, developing a timeline to help students stay on track, providing product options for presenting the learned information, and developing an evaluation with students so that expectations are clear, are all valuable ways to help students complete a productive independent study.

 

Learning Contracts

            A contract is an agreement made between the teacher and the student in which the student agrees to accomplish certain assignments. This is a way to match student readiness with the skills and content being taught. It also means that students must be able to plan and organize themselves in order to complete work that may be interdisciplinary, problem-based, or require research. This strategy is often used to extend learning at a higher level or to integrate thinking skills into assignments for those students whose work may be being compacted (see compacting). An Extension Menu can also be used as a contract. You may ask various students to complete a set number of extension boxes in a day or in a week, depending on their pace and/or ability. Most importantly, vary the length of the contract so that it matches a student’s readiness to handle such responsibility.

 

Literature Circles

            Literature Circles is an excellent strategy for getting students together to talk about a book they are reading. This strategy can help students build comprehension and verbal expression. Once a book group is formed students read at a set pace and come together for discussions. At each meeting children are assigned a different role. Roles can have many titles but students must come prepared to share with their group. Some examples of roles are: “The Connector” who looks for connections between the book, its characters and their own lives or other books they may have read. “Discussion Director” must develop questions for discussion and help keep the group on track. “The Illustrator’ creates visuals that show the steps of how a character did something, creates a storyboard for the events of the story, or illustrates meaningful passages from the book. “The Quotable Quoter” selects parts of the story to share with the group. They can be good parts, funny parts, scary parts, interesting parts, or serve to provide examples of figurative language, metaphor, hyperbole, etc. “The Summarizer” writes a brief summary or gives the highlights of the assigned section. “The Word Wizard” looks out for interesting and new words to share with the group. These are just a few of the jobs. Students and teachers can create their own job titles. Book selections can be made related to themes being studied or interest based. Best of all, book selection can be based on choice or ability.

 

Socratic Seminar

            Socratic seminars are conversations that are stimulated by open-ended questions related to a selected reading. Closure may never be attained but independent thinking may be stimulated.

 

Tiered Lessons/Activities

            This is an important way to allow students to work with the same concepts and essential ideas but at different levels of complexity, number of steps, concreteness vs. abstractness, and levels of independence. By developing activities along a continuum of complexity or abstractness you are allowing students to work on similar concepts but in such a way as to be accessible to low performing students and more challenging for high ability students. By beginning where they are, students will work at a level that builds on their prior knowledge but still provides for individual growth.