Teachers know that every class
includes diverse learners - some struggling, some advanced, and all with
different life experiences, learning preferences, and personal
interests. Differentiated instruction adapts instruction to meet the
needs of individual learners, providing all students with the
appropriate level of challenge and the appropriate supports to help
them reach learning goals.
Differentiated instruction is grounded in an understanding of how
people learn. Instruction begins with an assessment of what students
already know, and builds new concepts on their existing knowledge.
Differentiation provides students with varied experiences to engage
with content. A differentiated classroom offers multiple ways for
students to access content, to process and make sense of the concepts
and skills, and to develop products that demonstrate their learning
(Tomlinson, 2001). Technology supports classroom strategies by creating
new routes to learning, addressing multiple learning needs, and
providing forums for individualized access to content and expression.
Key Research Findings
- Intelligence is not a fixed quantity, but can be amplified
through rich learning experiences. Vigorous learning actually changes
the physiology of the brain (Caine & Caine, 1991).
learn best when presented with moderate challengesânot so difficult
that the learner feels threatened, and not so simple that the learner
"coasts" through without having to think deeply or solve new problems
(Bess, 1997; Czikszentmihalyi, Rathunde, & Whalen, 1993; Tomlinson,
- Struggling learners are seldom well-served by
homogeneous grouping (Oakes, 1985; Slavin, 1987, 1993). However,
advanced learners can benefit from accelerated classes (Kulik &
Kulik, 1991). In effective homogeneous classrooms, the needs of all
learners are specifically and systematically addressed (Tomlinson,
- Anchoring activities help teachers manage class
time and by creating meaningful activities that students work on
independentlyâat the beginning of class, when students are finished
with assignments, or when waiting for help (Tomlinson, 2001).
- Differentiate standards-based instruction.
Standardized learning goals do not imply "one-size-fits-all"
instruction. Differentiation opens multiple paths to help your students
reach the goals.
- Engage students in setting their own
learning goals. Learning contracts, personal goal-setting, and other
strategies help students recognize that they have a stake in their own
- Build on what students know. Recognize that
students build new understanding onto what they already know. Take time
to assess their individual starting points, then provide students with
a choice of ways to engage with key content.
multiple learning styles. Recognize that students' learning styles vary
widely and provide them with opportunities to build on their strengths.
- Use grouping wisely. Think about how to group students
effectively for different learning activities. Avoid stable homogenous
grouping, which can be a detriment to struggling students. Support
group efforts by teaching students to mediate conflicts and manage
their time effectively. Help all students find a way to contribute to
the group's success.
- Teach skills for success.
Reinforce learning skills that will help all students be successful
learners, such as note taking, summarizing, research strategies, and
- Provide opportunities for student choice.
Give students ample choices and encouragement to pursue projects that
interest them as part of regular classwork. Provide students who are
ready for more challenge with opportunities to tackle independent
- Vary assessment strategies. Use
multiple assessmentsâincluding portfolios and performance
assessmentsâthat will allow all students to demonstrate what they have
- Facilitate success. Provide appropriate support and classroom management to facilitate success in a student-centered classroom.