Education 2020 logo

Differentiated Instruction

Educators should no longer expect student achievement to be consistent with the bell shaped curve; it is unacceptable to assume that a portion of the students "just will not get it." Educators must strive to provide all students with an education that will prepare them for a constantly changing world. Furthermore, attempting to teach to the "average" student, teaching to the middle, has not had premium results. Some students are left behind, and other students are bored with information and lessons that they already know.

The need for differentiated instruction is being increasingly recognized as important as exemplified in the addition of training in differentiated instruction to the requirements for teacher certification in Illinois (standard 3 of Section 23.140 Illinois Professional Standards, 2013). Further, it is mentioned in standard 5 as well as being essential to instructional delivery.The schools of 2020 will utilize differentiated Instruction which will allow teachers to meet students where they are, so to speak, with resources that best meet their learning styles, thereby creating a student-centered environment. Instruction can be differentiated in these ways: content, process, product, and learning environment.

Differentiation of content allows the teacher to tailor the content to the students' particular needs and interests. Assessing prior knowledge gives the instructor information to determine where in a body of information the student should begin. Based upon Bloom's Taxonomy, some may begin at the most basic levels of cognition (knowledge and comprehension); others with greater prior knowledge may begin at a higher level such as analysis or synthesis of material. This differentiation in content also allows students to determine the pace of their own learning.

Because students learn in a variety of ways with strengths and weaknesses in different modalities, differentiated instruction focuses on providing students with a variety of resources to differentiate the process of learning as well. Providing a range of resources, students are able to use those that best suit their learning styles. Differentiated instruction also allows students to exhibit their levels of understanding by creating a product of their choosing. By allowing the product to vary, students gain greater understanding from one other students' products.

Several differentiating instruction strategies and techniques are being used today. Dr. Carol Tomlinson offers the Differentiation Instruction Model based upon what she calls "key elements" which include: a "high-quality curriculum, continual assessment, respectful tasks, building community, flexible grouping, and teaching up." Her technique includes clearly articulating the curricular goals to students using KUD (explaining what students are expected to know, understand, and do).

Dr. Kathie Nunley's Layered Curriculum is another example. Dr. Nunley states, "This 3-layer model of differentiated instruction encourages complex thinking and holds students highly accountable for their learning." According to the Dare to Differentiate wiki, choice boards which allow students to choose how they will exhibit understanding from a graphic is one technique. Instructors develop and offer a variety of activities to accomplish the same curricular goals. Students are allowed to choose from these activities and essentially their grade is dependent upon the quality and quantity of assignments completed. Students are required to give an "oral defense" in order to simplify grading. Response to Intervention (RTI) is another differentiation technique. Online data-driven programs such as Scholastic's Read About are increasingly available for provide differentiated learning and instruction.

Professional Development Opportunities

Differentiated instruction will be incorporated into teacher training in universities, and professional development opportunities will be provided for practicing teachers. Plenty of opportunities exist for such training; for example, Curriculum Associates Incorporated and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (among others) provide an online lessons courses and other presentations about differentiating instruction.

Dr. Carol Tomlinson, a renown expert in differentiating instruction, frequents as a guest speaker at the University of Virginia where courses. School Improvement Network provides online instruction featuring differentiating instruction expert Cindy A. Strickland. There are many online, blended, and face-to-face courses and seminars that will be offered so that both new and veteran instructors have knowledge of and use differentiated instruction.


Jenna Zwang reports in "School of One boosts individual learning" (eSchool News, Nov/Dec 2010) that the new School of One in New York City has gotten attention for its innovative middle school math program based on each student's individual learning. State tests identify student levels, and from those an individualized program is created. Students get a daily math schedule tailored for them. Tracked by computer, students follow a lesson bank and plans most likely to help them. A study by the NYC Department of Education showed that School of One's students math skills grew nine times as much as peers in one third the time with.

A Response to Intervention

Differntiated Instruction in Elementary School



Next up, see Disruptive Innovation