Unit 1: What (Exactly) is Differentiated Instruction?




Upon completion of this unit, participants will be able to

  • Define differentiated instruction.
  • Discuss the misconceptions related to the widely used educational term.
  • Identify what differentiated instruction is and what it is not through an activity.

What Is It?

Differentiated Instruction is a term thrown around quite frequently by educators - but do we really know what it means? Take the next few minutes and write out your own definition of the term. While completing this activity, you make what to take into account the following -

  • How does differentiated instruction involve teachers? How does it involve students?
  • What is the importance of curriculum, assignments and assessments when it comes to differentiated instruction?

After you have written your own definition, read the article below to give you a better understanding of what differentiated instruction actually means and where the concept came from. While you read, be sure to reflect back on your initial definition. Are their aspects of differentiated instruction that you forgot to include in your definition? Were you surprised by anything you read in the article? What are the misconceptions you have had about differentiated instruction?

Two, Four, Six, Eight, Lets all Differentiate! Differential Education Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.

Once you have finished reading the article, read through the four scenarios below and determine whether or not each teacher is using differentiated instruction. Please type your answers on the discussion tab of this page.


1.) Mr. Olson has his American History students read an article on the American Revolution. Once they have finished, he passes out questions on the reading according to the students ability to answer them - some students get more difficult questions, while other students questions are less difficult.

2.) Mrs. Bishop notices that her Global History students are not understanding the concept of Feudalism as well as she would like. Rather than moving forward with her lessons, she decides to slow down the pace of her lesson and focus more attention on the topic of Feudalism.

3.) Mr. Luzinas gives his 10th grade Geometry students a test. When grading the test he uses a curve that is more generous to lower performing students.

4.) Mr. Jacques is an elementary teacher. He has created at tiered lesson (4 tiers) to help his students understand the importance of good beginnings and endings in stories. The first tier is designed for ESL students, the second and third teirs build in difficulty with the fourth and final tier asking students to write an interesting beginning and an end to a story, providing a summary for the middle.

After determining whether the above scenarios are examples of differentiated instruction choose one of the following questions that are related to the article and provide an answer on the discussion tab. Please read through the thoughts of your peers and comment on at least one of them.

  • How has the idea of differentiated instruction changed since it was developed by Dr. virgil Ward?
  • In your own words, describe the difference between differentiated curriculum and differentiated instruction.
  • What is the relationship between formative assessments and differentiated instruction?
  • How has federal legislation (such as the NCLB Act) impacted the use of differentiated instruction?

Looking Forward

In the next unit we will explore why differentiated instruction is good for different types of learners as we explore Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences. What type of learner are you?

Additional Information

Six Strategies for Differentiated Instruction in Project-Based Learning

Four Proven Strategies for Differentiating Instruction; Helping each Child Learn within the Elementary Classroom

What is Differentiated Instruction?