My Understanding of Differentiation
“You keep using this word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya, Princess Bride
It is definately an educational buzzword. Like many buzzwords, people use it without thinking too much about what it means, or what it looks like. I was talking to another teacher who is being encouraged to differentiate instruction for her students about some of the things I do in my classroom. Finally, she interupted me and asked “What does choice have to do with differentiation?”
So, let’s start with a working definition. I like this one from Chapman and Gregory:
“Differentiation is a philosophy that enables teachers to plan strategically in order to reach the needs of the diverse learners in classrooms today.”
It is a philosophy, not a strategy in and of itself. Differentiation is the basic belief that students have different strengths/weaknesses, different interests, and different levels of background knowledge and that that belief should mold our teaching.
You can differentiate:
- Content – what you teach
- Process – how you teach it/students learn it
- Assessment – how students demonstrate what they learn
I feel choice is an important part of differentiation because it is a motivator. Don’t you like having a choice? Students do too – and many strategies for implementing differentiation involve menus or contracts which are choice based.
Right now, I mainly use low prep ways to differentiate. I do informal pre-assessments to differentiate instruction, offer choices to differentiate product, keep anchor activities at the ready for students who work quickly.
How do you differentiate in your classroom?
For further reading:
- Differentiating Instruction For Advanced Learners In the Mixed-Ability Middle School Classroom, Tomlinson
- Mapping a Route Toward Differentiated Instruction, Tomlinson “Differentiation is not so much the “stuff” as the “how.” If the “stuff” is ill conceived, the “how” is doomed. – Tomlinson”
- Principles of a Differentiated Classroom, among other things
- Teachers Have Choices Too (Hi Prep/Lo Prep), handout
- Kathie Nunley’s Layered Curriculum Model, articles and sample units by subject
- Differentiating Instruction, One Size Doesn’t Fit All, is a website resource for a series of workshops, but there are an amazing number of links grouped by topic – strategies, contents, and links for students