What is Differentiated Math Instruction?

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Differentiated math instruction is about teaching math developmentally. Here are great ways to integrate evidence-based strategies into your math lesson plans.

When you use differentiation you are integrating assessment as part of your everyday lesson planning.

Teachers can provide methods of instruction and learning in a variety of ways since the teaching process, methods used and the expected outcomes can be adapted and adjusted.  Our students arrive to us with varying degrees of mathematical understanding and we must know where to begin scaffolding instruction in our math lessons.


differentiated math instruction in elementary school


All types of instruction should begin with diagnostic testing before tackling any unit.

This is common sense so we can teach to a higher zone of proximal development.



High Achievers in Mathematics


What does differentiated instruction mean for our high achieving students?

Students who are gifted in math tend to make connections, yet are unable to explain how they got an answer.  If you have a student who shows these tendencies, their curriculum should be adapted for level, depth, pace and complexity.

John Van de Walle is considered to be one of the foremost educators on teaching mathematics. His book, Elementary and Middle School Mathematics: Teaching Developmentally, is considered one of the foremost guides on how to best teach mathematics. He devotes an entire chapter on the importance of building assessment into instruction and how that leads to differentiated instruction.

He also discusses how to teach mathematics equitably for all students. This includes students with disabilities as well as those who are mathematically gifted.

Differentiated Math Instruction Strategies


  • Accleration
    According to Sadler & Tai, 2007, when gifted students are accelerated, they are more likely to move into areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Acceleration is also a great opportunity to use curriculum compacting.

  • Enrichment
    This is an extension of the original task. Group investigations, solving real problems, and applying skills to other areas of mathematics are all enrichments.

  • Sophistication
    When you increase the sophistication of a topic, you raise the level of complexity and depth. Learning about place value could lead into a study of Mayan mathematics. Patterns lead into Fibonacci numbers. This is a great differentiation strategy.

  • Novelty
    This is giving completely different material from the regular curriculum. It usually involves time after school or during specials and is a collaborative experience between students from different grade levels.

  • Variation in Teaching Style
    Limit your time spent lecturing. Kinesthetic learners need hands-on, and make use of your Smart Board for visual and auditory learners.

  • Most Difficult First
    Offer students the opportunity to complete the most difficult task first. If they can, allow them to explore and enrich their learning with other tiered activities.

  • Anchor Activities
    These are ongoing activities that are anchored in prior learning at student's individual levels. They are meant to be used as reinforcements of skills and done independently. Differentiation does not mean ignoring the necessary repetition to keep mathematical skills up to par!

Apps Your Accelerated Learners Will Love


  • Cut the Knot - These puzzles will delight your kids, but be sure you can solve them first!
  • ABCYa! Tangrams for Kids - Great enrichment for spatial skills and reasoning.
  • Math Doodles - Looking for an ap for differentiated math instruction? This is the homepage for 3 aps - look for the demos, then purchase them in the App Store. I have Sum Stackers on my iPhone and all three of my kids play it - 4, 10 and 12, so I know it hits different levels!


Remember that being respectful of children's different instructional levels and needs is at the heart of the differentiated classroom.








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