Friday, April 26, 2013

Differentiated Instruction: Ideas and resources for professional development

by Derek Spencer

Hi there! Perhaps you've heard a bit about Differentiated Instruction (or "DI" for short) in the past couple of years, but for those who haven't, DI is a teaching philosophy founded on the idea that different students learn in different ways. When we talk about people as "visual learners," or "auditory learners," or "those who learn by doing," we're talking about people who learn best when the instruction they receive is tailored to their unique strengths.

Each student's optimal learning style is just one variable that teachers must account for in a DI classroom, however. DI emphasizes knowing your students — the more you know about your students as individuals, the more effectively you can build your lesson plans and deliver quality instruction. In a DI classroom, your lessons should be structured to reach all of your students, not just a select few. So, one of the keys to true DI is incorporating material for several learning styles into each lesson you plan.

Students are people, and everyone's different; unless your classroom is completely homogeneous (the likelihood of which is minuscule), you're going to have to account for students of different ability levels. One common misconception about DI is that students of lower ability should receive instruction that is fundamentally different from that which higher-ability students receive — don't fall into this trap!

The primary objective for true DI is to get students of all learning types to achieve the same goals — regardless of ability level. All your students should be working toward the same learning objectives; your less-capable students might simply need more scaffolding to achieve those objectives. If you give them this scaffolding and help them develop their weaker skills, they won't be your lower-ability students for long. 


This page at The Center for Learning contains a webinar titled How can differentiation be achieved —without putting too much burden on teachers? It's a good introduction to and explanation of DI.

This webinar explains how DI and the Common Core can work together.

We offer many kinds of unit plans and resources for many different types of learners. The Levels of Understanding series is especially suited to a DI approach; it's based on Bloom's Taxonomy, and the questions within help students progress through lower-order tasks and acquire the ability to evaluate texts. If that sounds like something you could use in your classroom, pop on over to and give it a look.

As always, thanks for reading!

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