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Differentiation 101 - A Basic Guide to Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated Curriculum.
Differentiated Instructional Strategies.
At conferences, parent gatherings, and curriculum planning meetings, the term differentiation is thrown around like a Frisbee.
As a newly hired teacher, I recall nodding my head and blinking blankly whenever the term was whizzed at me.
The definition of differentiation is taken for granted; thus, no one ever pauses to tell what differentiation means.
This article will do just that.
In a nutshell, differentiation--which is sometimes called differentiated instruction--refers to a method of curriculum planning and instruction that offers learners a wide variety of ways to acquire understanding.
The following bullet points offer a quick and dirty guide to differentiated instruction.
These bullets outline the three elements of the curriculum that can be differentiated as well as the three learner characteristics that can be taken into account while differentiating your instruction.
The following elements of your curriculum can be differentiated CONTENT: Content is considered the "stuff" of the curriculum.
This "stuff" includes what the instructor plans for learners to understand as well as the ways the learner will gain access to the desired knowledge and skills.
To differentiate according to Content, an instructor can do the following:
  • Provide text on multiple levels of difficulty
  • Use part-to-whole or whole-to-part instruction
  • Use manipulatives, Internet resources, audio recordings, and other non-conventional "text"
PROCESS: Process refers to the activities in which learners engage in order to gain understanding of the subject.
A conventional way to think about Process is to consider it as the things learners do in the class and for homework.
To differentiate according to Process, the instructor can do the following:
  • Vary amount of support given by the instructor
  • Give learners choices about how they express what they learn
  • Provide varied assignment options at differing levels of difficulty or based on learner interests
PRODUCT: Products are the end result, the things learners create to demonstrate what they understand and/or are able to do after they have moved through the curriculum.
Some examples of learning products are essays, poems, quiz/test answers, presentations, blogs, websites, skits, videos, plays, and other dramatizations.
To differentiate according to Product, the instructor can do the following:
  • Provide rubrics (a grid showing how learners will be assessed) for assignments
  • Vary types of resources learners can use in preparing products (text, Internet resources, books, encyclopedias, interviews, tours, pamphlets, etc)
  • Allow learners to design a product around essential learning goals-to express what they know in varied ways (e.
    speaking, writing, drawing)
The following are three learner characteristics instructors can take into account when planning to differentiate: READINESS: Readiness refers to the understanding and preparedness learners have at the start of study.
Because learners vary in preparation and knowledge (in other words, what they bring to the classroom and to specific assignments), they require different levels of difficulty.
To differentiate according to Readiness, instructors can do the following:
  • Add student teach-backs to assignments
  • Add or remove peer conferencing, instruction, and models for a task
  • Make the task more or less familiar (e.
    by adding or removing information and resources)
INTERESTS: Interests, in terms of differentiation, can be thought of as the learner's "academic taste buds.
" Because learners have different taste buds, instructors can align curriculum with topics or pursuits that satisfy the palate of each learner.
To differentiate according to Interest, instructors can do the following
  • Provide a wide variety of choices for topics and products
  • Provide a variety of avenues for learner exploration of a topic
  • Give learners a choice of tasks and products, including learner-designed options
LEARNING PROFILE: Just as the height and shape of students vary (even within the same grade), so do their learner profiles.
No matter how students are grouped, each group will have learners with different interests, levels of readiness, learning styles, talents, and standardized test scores.
One understanding of learning styles is Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences.
Gardner's theory delineates the following categories: Bodily-kinesthetic, Interpersonal, Verbal-linguistic, Logical-mathematical, Naturalistic, Intrapersonal, Visual-spatial, and Musical.
To differentiate according to Learning Profile, instructors can do the following:
  • Provide choice of spaces for activities (e.
    desks, couches, and floor seating)
  • Present information in a variety of ways (video, handout, lecture, peer-to-peer talks)
  • Provide learning opportunities in various modes (musical, visual display, movement and manipulatives)
Differentiation helps instructors engineer curriculum that reaches the widest number of learners possible.
With the above guide highlighting the primary tenets of differentiation, you can approach your curriculum-and the next faculty meeting-with a basket full of knowledge and tools to differentiate in all of your curriculum.

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