Friday, January 28, 2011

Differentiation - how do you plan for it?

When I start to think about differentiation - about all the many individuals I teach (over 300 of them) - it feels almost overwhelming.  How does a teacher plan to meet all the needs of all the students?  How do you make sure that every student is learning?  Here are some more thoughts based on the Differentiation in Practice book that I'm reading.

It's important for teachers to know the following about their students:
Student readiness -  this is the thing that I find most challenging:  if a student can complete a task effortlessly, he or she may not be learning.  If the work is too difficult, the student will end up being frustrated and also not learning.  The best learning takes place when a task is a little too difficult for a student's current level of knowledge, understanding or skill, but only when there is a support system that helps students to bridge the gap.
Interest - there are many ways to link what has to be learned with the students' own interests.  However the best teachers also help students to develop new interests.
Learning style - working in collaboration with others, or working alone, for example.

How can teachers adapt the curriculum to meet the needs of their students:
Content - teachers need to keep constant WHAT all students need to learn, but need to modify HOW students access the content.   For example this might mean varying the reading level of materials.  Sometimes teachers need to vary WHAT the students are learning, depending on their readiness.
Process - teachers can vary the activities that students do which lead them to their knowledge, understanding and skills.
Products - teachers can vary what students can do to show their knowledge, understanding and skills.

Photo Credit:  Crayon Tips by Darren Hester


  1. One of the best experiences I had with dif. learning was as a grade 6 student, (more than 20 years ago.) It was tacked up "learning centers" one of my teachers had us do an hour a day, where we´d work individually on different centers, choosing core and optional tasks. There were both ind. and collaborative projects and exercises, with written and presentation. The teacher must have done a laundry basket of corrections every day...

    Would be neat to see this integrated within a digital environment... wallwisher could do it well, opening the class to outside school hours.(and some lower level correcting could be automated!)

  2. Another obstacle to differentiation is that as teachers, we don't know what we don't know. We don't always know that an activity or resource exists that can fit an individual students needs. It is important that as teachers we are constantly learning, growing, and searching for those opportunities on behalf of our students.