What Is Differentiated Instruction?

(By: Carol Ann Tomlinson)

Differentiation means tailoring instruction to meet individual needs. Whether teachers differentiate content, process, products, or the learning environment, the use of ongoing assessment and flexible grouping makes this a successful approach to instruction.
Teachers can differentiate at least four classroom elements based on student readiness, interest, or learning profile:
  • Content – what the student needs to learn or how the student will get access to the information;
  • Process – activities in which the student engages in order to make sense of or master the content;
  • Products – culminating projects that ask the student to rehearse, apply, and extend what he or she has learned in a unit; and
  • Learning environment – the way the classroom works and feels.

Why Use Technology to Differentiate Instruction-- Why Not!

One of the major benefits of using technology in the classroom is the ability to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of every student. Just as every student grows and develops at different rates, they learn in different ways and at different speeds. Technology makes it possible to pace lessons appropriately for each student’s learning level and can be used to promote learning in the multiple intelligences....that is why!

When Deciding On What Digital Tools To Use....ask these questions:

Let’s start with a premise: Planning differentiated instruction enhanced by technology is a perfect fit for the principles of understanding by design (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005) in which teachers plan instruction based on the results they intend for their students. This means that before any digital tools are chosen, before a single activity is determined, before assessment instruments are designed, the intended results must be decided. Results are informed by standards and further refined by lesson objectives. They are carefully honed predictions for student learning that require the teacher to determine the key attributes of target concepts and consideration for what acceptable evidence of learning might be.(A Planning Process for Differentiated Instruction with Digital Tools: By: Thomas DeVere Wolsey)

Now....ask these questions:
  • What tools do my students know or might they learn to use?
  • What digital technologies are available to the students in the classroom, at school, at home?
  • What digital technologies can students bring with them to school to assist in their learning?
  • Will the digital technologies that are part of the options for students really improve their learning relative to standards, objectives, and intended learning results?

Alan Levin says it well: But It's Not About The Tools.....I can buy all the best tools at Home Depot and still not be able to build anything well;what is more important is the craft of creating a powerful message. Technology tools may just be a way to unlock your creative potential.

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Use this online quiz to help you determine which intelligences are strongest for you. If you're a teacher or tutor, you can also use it to find out which intelligences your learner uses most often.


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The multiple intelligences can be met and enhanced through the use of technology. Many technologies overlap and address several of the intelligences at once. With a little creativity and planning, you can create rich lessons that will meet your student’s needs and let them learn at their own pace and level.


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