Lesson 3: Differentiated Instruction


Unit One Lesson Three: Differentiated Instruction


Students will learn the benefits of differentiated instruction and how it can be implemented in the classroom.


The term "differentiated instruction" has its roots in the word "different." All students are different. They are individuals. As such, they learn differently. Stemming from Howard Gardner's research on multiple intelligences, education researchers and practitioners began a method of instructional practices that is a melting pot of many different instructional models, called differentiated instruction. The main idea behind differentiated instruction is that teachers should be sure to alter their instructional methods in order to accommodate for their students' differing learning styles and strengths based on multiple intelligences.

What does differentiated instruction look like in the classroom?

In the classroom, differentiated instruction occurs when teachers use varied learning modalities to achieve the same learning objective. Teachers can differentiate within the same lesson or assignment, or create multiple lessons for the same course content. Many teachers implement Bloom's Taxonomy as a tool for differentitation. Using a Bloom's Wheel, teachers are able to give students options for assignments which tap into their multiple intelligences and strengths, while ensuring a deep level of understanding of the content.


Here is an example a teacher using learning menus to give students choice of modality.


Benefits and Drawbacks

There are, as usual, many theories on the effectiveness of constant differentiation in the classroom. Although we now know our students’ learning preferences, should we always cater to them? There is a benefit to helping students to adapt to modalities that are not their preferences in a supportive classroom environment. However, If a course is planned using mostly a single modality, there will likely be gaps in student learning and achievement. It is the teacher's role to determine when the benefits of differentiated instruction will be appropriate, and when it is time to challenge the students to learn outside their comfort level. Many feel that challenging students to learn outside of their preferred style will bring out strengths they never knew they had.

In an Educational Leadership article, Mike Schmoker asks the question if differentiation is undermining effective curriculum and instruction. He argues that in order to differentiate, teachers' jobs requirements are increasing so much that there is too much emphasis on differentiation, and too little on curriculum. He would like to see lessons with a deep basis in curriculum as opposed to student preferences. Once this is achieved, Schmoker argues, then we can fiddle around with some pilot programs for differentiation.

Daniel Willingham and David Daniel also make a case against differentiated instruction in Educational Leadership. They discuss the similarities between students and students' final learning outcomes. They say this hyper-individualization of instruction is not necessary. They point out that students' cognitive needs do not need to dictate their instructional methods. Making an analogy to food, they say that the vitamins that a person must have do not dictate the specific recipes.

In the end, it seems that the research is up in the air. There are many articles that state the incredible benefits to differentiation, and those already cited that are skeptical. Chester Finn wrote a piece for Education Gadfly with a skeptical viewpoint. He closes by challenging educators to show data of where differentiation works, stating that it is implemented with such varied success by many teachers.


It is now time to reflect on your own practice as a teacher. When do you feel it is appropriate to differentiate instruction, and when should students be challenged outside of their preferred learning style.


Back to the discussion tab again, describe instances where you could achieve the same learning objective while changing the learning modality or giving students a choice.

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