Differentiated Instruction

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is differentiated instruction (DI)?
Differentiated instruction is responsive teaching. Its primary goal is to ensure that teachers focus on processes and procedures that lead to effective learning for varied individuals in your classroom. It is the opposite of a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

2. Does the practice of DI mean I have to individualize for every student in each of my classes?
In a word, no. DI does mean that you attend to your instruction, procedures, and assessments with a mind to student needs. You proactively plan varied approaches to what students need to learn, how they will learn it, and how they can express what they have learned in order to increase the likelihood that they will learn as much and as efficiently as possible.

3. Does the practice of DI mean that I must “dumb down” my instruction for struggling learners or provide more work for advanced learners?
Again, no. The same learning belongs to all students. Struggling learners may need more help with missing pieces of background knowledge or more targeted practice with the concepts you are working towards. Advanced learners may be able to make deeper or more far-reaching connections. Responsive teaching makes room for both while still focusing on those essential questions of your lesson or unit.

4. What strategies create a climate of responsive teaching?
· Find ways to get to know students more intentionally and regularly. This is difficult in a secondary environment where you sometimes have 150 student contacts each day, but worth exploring. Examples include greeting students by name, taking short observational notes as they do group work, or utilizing journals through which you and students communicate about their learning.

• Implement patterns of instruction within your lessons. Think about who you will be teaching and plan for both struggling and advanced groups of learners with alternate paths to the same learning. Offer alternative paths to those groups of students who are either struggling with or already exceeding your lesson objectives.

· Incorporate focused small-group teaching into daily or weekly teaching routines. This allows you to target instruction on a regular basis to students who need to be taught in different ways, those who need assistance with basic skills, and those who need to be pushed further than grade-level expectations. Such groups can and should vary according to student need within that lesson or unit.

· Get comfortable with teaching to the high end. All students benefit from tasks designed to foster complex and creative thinking, support for increased independence, self-assessment, metacognition, and flexible pacing. Build in supports to enable all students to succeed.

· Offer more ways to explore and express learning. How students make sense of your content will vary. When allowed to come at it from different angles or learning styles, students will “own” the content and it becomes meaningful to all.

· Regularly use quick, informal assessments to monitor student understanding. Teacher observations, exit tickets, and targeted questions let you put together a picture of student understanding that can inform your next steps.

· Teach in multiple ways. Use part-to-whole and whole-to-part explanations. Use both words and images. Model or demonstrate ideas. Use examples, stories, metaphors and illustrations from students’ own experiences. A teacher who regularly presents in these varied modes is likely to reach far more students than one who “specializes” in one mode.

· Reinforce basic reading strategies throughout your curriculum. This helps to enhance your students’ understanding and teaches them to read your content with greater purpose and comprehension.

· Use clear rubrics for assessments that provide guidance about quality. Students know from the start what is expected and can focus their questions to get there.

· Cultivate a taste for diversity in your classroom. Pose questions that can be answered from multiple vantage points. Make it safe for students to express divergent views. Ask students to find multiple ways to solve problems. Consistently use examples, illustrations, and materials related to varied cultures.

5. Where do I begin?
You are most certainly using some of the above strategies already. Expand your repertoire a little at a time. Test out a new strategy and evaluate how it works for student learning. Get feedback from others, including your instructional coach. Remember, the desired lesson objectives should remain a constant target, regardless of differences in students' background knowledge, interests, or preferred learning modalities.

Differentiating with Technology
Information about DI and technology tools that can be used in any classroom to help you differentiate.