Differentiating Instruction (Lesson)

Part 1: Intro & Objectives

When we look deeply enough into classrooms, we see that all have some diversity—gender, ethnic, racial, language, sexual identity and orientation, (dis)ability, nationality—it’s all there. Diversity is the “spice” of a classroom.

But how does a teacher help to bridge culture and language in diverse classroom settings? How can a teacher invite involvement of parents and caregivers? And what happens when a mentor notices that a teacher’s biases get in the way of good instruction? We focus on English Learners in the Real World Case because that’s a growing segment of the student population across the U.S. There’s just so much more to learn about how to best teach English Learners.

But the same is true children who need special services for learning disabilities and children who are identified as “gifted.” Of course these labels don’t tell the whole story–a child may have all three labels. Smart teachers (and smart mentors) know that differentiating instruction means attending to the data that provides background about the child, but also attending to each child’s level of participation and performance in the class. This lesson provides guidance for mentors who want to help new teachers differentiate instruction.

After completing this lesson, you will:

  • Identify ways to collect and interpret data to show new teachers how to differentiate instruction
  • Be familiar with Universal Design for Learning
  • Self-evaluate whether/how classroom instruction aligns with Universal Design for Learning
  • Be familiar with Response to Intervention
  • Self-evaluate whether/how classroom instruction aligns with Response to Intervention

Part 2: Real World Case

This Real World Case presents one teacher’s dilemma as she struggles to meet the needs of all of her students. Whether a teacher is teaching children with diverse abilities, language backgrounds, and/or cultural backgrounds, the teacher’s job is to meet the students’ needs–ALL of the students needs.

Before you watch the video, consider:

  • As a teacher, what do you do to differentiate instruction in your own classroom?
  • What do you consider to be best practices for supporting students who are learning English?
  • Students who receive special education services?
  • Students who are routinely needing advanced work?


After viewing the video, consider:

  • What questions would you ask Leslie, the new teacher, to move her toward understanding how to differentiate instruction?
  • What data should the Leslie look at in advance of teaching her students?
  • If you were to observe Leslie, knowing that differentiation is her goal, what data might you take note of to identify whether and how Leslie is differentiating instruction? (Hint: Consider the coaching “cycle” here, involving the pre-conference, the observation, and the post-conference)
  • What should a new teacher ask her/himself as he/she considers the linguistic needs, cultural backgrounds, and abilities of students within the classroom?
  • What strategies might you recommend for differentiation?

A dedicated new teacher is feeling overwhelmed with planning differentiated instruction for her students. Her class consists of gifted, English learners and Special Education inclusion students. She wants all of her students to be successful but she notices that several students who are English learners are quiet and do not participate during instruction.


Part 3: Building Knowledge


Due to copyright law, several readings cannot be hosted on this site. However, we encourage you to ask for assistance locating materials from your library media specialist. Many library services are freely available to educators.

Deciding to Differentiate

This article provides a useful summary of research on how to think about the process of differentiating instruction. From the National Center on Accessible Instructional Materials, the article uses a Universal Design for Learning approach. In this short article is a wonderful chart that traces the decision-making process that a teacher might use to determine when and how to differentiate instruction.

Hall, T., Strangman, N., & Meyer, A. (2009). Differentiated Instruction and Implications for UDL Implementation. National Center on Accessible Instructional Materials.

View Article
NOTE: Required reading

Research Support for Differentiation

Ever need to convince someone (or yourself) of the value of differentiated instruction. Here Hueber provides readers with research studies that show positive results for the implementation of differentiated instruction. In addition, she shares several guiding principles to support differentiated classroom practices.

Huebner, Tracy (2010). Differentiated learning. Educational Leadership, 67(5), 79-81.

View Article
NOTE: Required reading

Differentiating in Inclusion Classrooms

This comprehensive article provides readers with examples of key concepts for differentiated instruction and universal design for learning. The authors also highlight the dimensions of multicultural education and provide readers with a unit planner template to support teachers with designing units that consider the needs of all students.

Frey, N. (nd). Differentiating Instruction in Responsive Middle and High School Classrooms. White Paper available at http://education.ky.gov/

View Article

NOTE: Required reading

Differentiation in Elementary Grades

In this article, Tomlinson defines differentiated instruction, discusses the reasons for it and examines what makes it successful. She also shows readers specific ways they can begin implementation.

Tomlinson, C. (2000). Differentiation of instruction in elementary grades. Eric Digest.

View Article
NOTE: Required reading

Differentiation in Middle School

This digest provides an overview of some key principles for differentiating instruction, with an emphasis on the learning needs of academically advanced students.

Tomlinson, C. A., (1995). Differentiating instruction for advanced learners in the mixed-ability middle school classroom. ERIC Digest E536.

View Article
NOTE: Required reading

Elizabeth Wilkins, Ph.D.

Visit Expert’s Website

Elizabeth Wilkins, Ph.D., is a Professor at Northern Illinois University. Her research focuses on teacher induction and mentoring. She wrote the New Mentor Workbook (published by Kappa Delta Pi).

Listen as Elizabeth Wilkins suggests tools beginning teachers can use to engage both higher level and struggling students.

Advice about Differentiating Instruction

Check out this YouTube video from Maize Central Elementary that discusses several strategies for differentiating instruction.

  • Can you name all of the strategies mentioned?
  • Which strategies do you use or recommend?

If you’re a middle or high school teacher and want to see differentiation at the secondary level, check out how this teacher does it. This National Board Certified teacher describes her strategies for differentiating in a high school English class.

ACTIVITY 1: A Differentiation Self-Check

From CAST (the Center for Applied Special Technology), this self-assessment is free to teachers so they can see whether/how their attempts to differentiate instruction are helpful or need work. http://udlselfcheck.cast.org/

ACTIVITY 2: Reflections

Use the Square/Triangle/Circle (STC) activity below as a framework to reflect on the readings, videos, websites and expert advice shared in this module.

Square What “squared” with your thinking? That is, what ideas did you encounter in the readings, videos, and expert advice sections of the module that were consistent with what you already know and/or believe about differentiating instruction for ELL students?
Triangle What “pointed” you in new directions? What new ideas did you discover in the module? Share the ways in which the module provided new understandings surrounding second language acquisition and instructional strategies to support ELL students.
Circle What thoughts are “circling” in your mind? How can you use the new information to build on what you already know and support beginning teachers with differentiating their instruction?



Part 4: Review & Reflect

Consider how you might use this information to help a new teacher understand differentiation. In this lesson, we focused on differentiating for English learners.

A teacher’s knowledge about learning–in this case, English learning–is very important. Data are also important. Teachers get data before they even begin to teach.

  • What data might you tap into as you help a new teacher to understand her students prior to teaching them a lesson?
  • What role does a teacher’s background knowledge about students in the class play in differentation?
  • What data might be helpful to gather during the lesson?
  • And what data are important to interpret after teaching a lesson?

By helping new teachers differentiate instruction through the use of data, you can help the new teacher have a structured, well-informed differentiation strategy.

Consider how your answers from the questions at the beginning of this lesson might have changed:

  • What questions would you ask Leslie, the new teacher, to move her toward understanding how to differentiate instruction?
  • What data should the Leslie look at in advance of teaching her students?
  • If you were to observe Leslie, knowing that differentiation is her goal, what data might you take note of to identify whether and how Leslie is differentiating instruction? (Hint: Consider the coaching “cycle” here, involving the pre-conference, the observation, and the post-conference)
  • What should a new teacher ask her/himself as he/she considers the linguistic needs, cultural backgrounds, and abilities of students within the classroom?
  • What strategies might you recommend for differentiation?

The Real World Case from this lesson was used as the focus of a discussion among mentor teachers in “Assessment of Teachers” lesson Demo. Take a look at that Demo video to see what other mentor teachers discussed.

Part 5: Glossary

differentiated instruction

A variety of techniques used to adapt instruction to individual ability levels and multiple approaches to learning for each student in a classroom


 

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