Differentiated Instruction (5)

To differentiate instruction is to recognize students’ varying background knowledge, readiness, language, preferences in learning, and interests, and to react responsively. Differentiated instruction addresses the needs of students of differing abilities and learning styles in the same class. The intent of differentiating instruction is to provide multiple access points for diverse learners to maximize growth and individual success by meeting each student where he or she is and assisting in the learning process from that point. Differentiated Instruction is a series of essential strategies for working in heterogeneous classrooms and eliminating tracking.

Benchmark Descriptors

Transforming: Student learning outcomes reflect high degrees of complexity.

  • Assignments are differentiated based on content, skill, and process so as to align all tasks and objectives to the learning goals of each individual student. The idea is to identify the next instructional step for learners entering at varying levels.
  • Students work in multiple groupings and move between them fluidly. Learners interact and work together as they develop knowledge of new content. Based on the content, project, and ongoing evaluations, grouping and regrouping is a dynamic process. Teachers use a variety of diagnostic assessments to help them group students equitably. Teachers monitor student group participation to prevent de facto tracking and to address inequities.
  • The school supports the inclusion of all students, including English-language learners and special needs students, in regular academic classrooms through the use of differentiated instruction as well as other best practices, such as dual-certified teachers and individualized learning plans.
  • Instruction is concept-focused and principle-driven. The instructional concepts are broad-based. Teachers focus on the concepts, principles, and skills that all students should learn, and they can adjust instruction to meet the needs of a diverse set of learners.
  • Students have multiple means of representation to support instructional content and provide various ways of acquiring and constructing knowledge.
  • All tasks have different access points for student engagement with the content that tap into learners’ interests, offer appropriate academic challenges, and increase motivation.
  • Student demonstrations of knowledge are varied. A well-designed student project has varied expectations and requirements and allows for multiple means for students to demonstrate what they know, multiple types of assessment, and multiple methods of feedback.
  • Students learn from teachers’ use of assessments that inform rather than merely measure instruction. Assessment occurs before, during, and following the instructional episode, and helps teachers pose questions regarding students’ needs and optimal learning.

Developing: Teacher planning and instructional strategies reflect an understanding of best practice of differentiated instruction.

  • Teachers use diagnostics frequently to identify skill levels for new units, and to intentionally group students for each unit.
  • Almost all class work assignments and readings are leveled by at least one of the following: content, skill, or process.
  • Formative assessment is used frequently to gauge learning, and it is the basis for discussions about students.
  • Summative assessments are leveled by skill, content, or process.

Early: The critical need for effective differentiated instruction in daily practice has moved from leadership to staff.

  • Staff development has occurred or been planned around differentiated instruction.
  • Diagnostics are being used or beginning to be used to identify different skill levels.
  • Teachers are testing the use of intentional groupings or pairings and recording data on the effectiveness of the practice.
  • Teachers and administrators recognize that tracking does not serve students well.
  • Some teachers have designed “levels” of assignments. Sometimes the assignments are separated by content, sometimes by process.
  • Some teachers are making a distinction between formative and summative assessments.

Conversations move toward discussing skills and understanding rather than work habits.

Related Tools

Related Principles