Differentiation in the Classroom

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What does differentiation in the classroom really look like and how can teachers make sure they are growing all students?


Differentiated instruction is done by recognizing that students have a variety of background knowledge and experiences, interests, and readiness, and then reacting appropriately.

What should teachers do to use differentiation in the classroom?

That sounds easy, but it isn't.  Like anything else, using differentiated instructional activities becomes easier the more you do it but at the beginning it is tough.  Planning and having an organized tracking system is absolutely essential to success.

You can change the content, process, expected outcomes and even the learning environment to meet a child's needs. Just don't do it all at once, and remember that everything does not have to be adjusted to be an effective lesson.

While you cannot always change the content of what you are to teach, you do have control over the process you use to teach the content.

You can also extend your lessons by going more in-depth and providing alternative ways to evaluate learning.

The goal is to match the level and depth of your curriculum to the motivation and readiness of your students (Tomlinson, 1999).

Current studies about brain research and learning will also give you some ideas for ways of increasing your students' learning.  Understanding how to use Bloom's Taxonomy and the Proximal Zone of Development will also give more depth and rigor to your lessons.


What Does Differentiation in the Classroom Look Like?

raise student achievement with differentiated activities
core activities to use when differentiating instruction

These activities can be applied in any learning environment and they will result in significantly increased student learning.

When implemented consistently and correctly, the strategies outlined can provide average percentile point gains as high as 45% on student achievement tests.

  • You provide choices for the student to show their understanding. This will maximize their interest
  • Pre-test as often as you can - if they know it, why make them sit there and listen to it again? Let them move ahead or go deeper. You are likely to find that they already know the entire chapter of math!
  • Teach it once then check if they have it, because most likely they will. Then have another activity for the students to move on to while re-teaching the lesson(s) to the others
  • What they miss on a pre-test, teach it directly and then let them move on. Again, often they only need it taught one time and they have it
  • Let them show what they know with a few problems, not the whole page. Is that really necessary for a kid who already grasps the concept to do 25 math problems?
  • Give them ongoing problem solving activities that are mentally stimulating and challenging. These types of activities are a great way to go deeper into the curriculum instead of going wider
  • Have activities at different levels (think Blooms Taxonomy

4 Classic Differentiated Instructional Techniques


  • Compact the Curriculum: assess knowledge and provide alternative activities for content already mastered. You will need to provide a learning contract that lets the student choose what activities will be completed. Give credit for the knowledge already known


  • Tiered Assignments: a series of related tasks that vary in their complexity. All the activities relate to the key skills the students need to have. I like to do a Tic-Tac-Toe board and the students choose 5 activities to complete.


  • Independent Study Projects: if you have a student who is truly interested in a topic and wants to work on it, let him do this research project. The amount of help you provide will vary between grade levels, but remember that all kids need a teacher to teach them (don't just ignore them).


  • Buddy Study: like an ISP, but with a few other like-minded students. This social aspect is very important for gifted kids, and you may need to help them work on those skills because many gifted students find it difficult to work with others.


Differentiated Instruction in Reading 

Differentiation in the classroom using Reading Karate


Reading Karate is slam-dunk winner with kids of all ages.  

Using DRA or Guided Reading Levels, teachers have been using this motivational reading program to address fluency and comprehension for students at every level.

Try it now and see how easy it is to motivate all levels of learners to become better readers!











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