You're in the middle of teaching a lesson when a student raises their hand and says:

Student raising their hand and saying

Well, that sounds like a job for differentiation!

What is differentiation?

Rather than teaching the whole class in one way, differentiation happens when the teacher uses different instructional strategies to appeal to a variety of student needs.

Kid President, waving his hands in the air and saying

There are 4 ways to differentiate instruction:

  • Content

  • Process

  • Product

  • Learning environment

1. Content

Content is the knowledge, concepts, and skills that learners need. When you introduce new content, it may be brand new to some students, while others are already experts. To differentiate content:

  • use Bloom's Taxonomy to design tiered activities at varying levels of complexity

  • provide texts at multiple reading levels

  • present information in different ways, such as slideshows, media, or discussions

  • offer supplemental learning materials, such as books, websites, and games

    a man in a black shirt and white and red hat, teaching students in a classroom Photo by LexScope on Unsplash

2. Process

Process describes the way learners make sense of class content. Students have different learning preferences and styles. To differentiate the process:

  • provide students with opportunities to reflect individually or through partner talks

  • allow students to choose and use graphic organizers

  • set up learning centers, where students practice skills through different stations, or jigsaws, where students become experts in a topic and share their knowledge

  • vary how much time students have to complete tasks

    students discussing in groups Photo by Akson on Unsplash

3. Product

Product is what students create to express their understanding. To differentiate product:

  • provide students with different options for how to demonstrate mastery, such as through a written report, brochure, poster, skit, blog, song, collage, PowerPoint, or oral presentation

  • allow students to work independently, with a partner, or in a group

  • provide a rubric so that students are aware of the task's expectations and able to assess their own work

    a desk with papers, highlighters, a computer, and handwritten notes Photo by Firmbee.com on Unsplash

4. Learning Environment

The learning environment is the climate of the learning space or classroom. To differentiate the learning environment:

  • offer quiet spaces with no distractions and areas for discussion and collaboration

  • provide culturally responsive resources and materials

  • set clear guidelines and routines so students know what to do and how to efficiently get support from each other or the teacher

    students in a classroom with a teacher at the front of the room Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

Quiz Time!

Victoria's class has just finished reading a novel. She tells her students their final project is to write an essay about the theme of the novel. Students hear the word "essay" and immediately feel stressed out.

Spongebob blinking his eyes and sweating

Victoria is considering ways to differentiate the assignment for her students:

A: Require students to work independently

B: Prepare graphic organizers to help students understand the novel's themes and plot

C: Provide supplementary videos and websites

D: Give students the option to choose alternative formats for the project

Quiz

How can Victoria differentiate this assignment for her students? Select all that apply.

Take Action

Animal saying

Now that you know how to differentiate instruction to meet a variety of student needs:

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