Helping All Learners: Differentiation
How can teachers meet the needs of more students, more often?
"Share our similarities, celebrate our differences." —M. Scott Peck, MD and author
Differentiated instruction has multiple interpretations within the field of education. This page will offer EL Education's stance on differentiation, including the critical role of assessment in differentiation. EL Education believes that no matter which component of instruction a teacher chooses to differentiate for students, effective differentiation is built on a foundation of engaging, relevant, student-friendly learning targets that clearly define expectations for learning.
A significant difference between EL's position on differentiation and the position of others involves these learning targets. For us, the learning targets that are defined long before instruction occurs do not change for students in a differentiated classroom. Teachers do not offer different targets, or objectives, to different students. We do, however, promote the practice of differentiating the process through which students may arrive at the learning targets. Some students may need more scaffolding to reach a target, or may take a different route. But what remains consistent for all students are the targets that students are striving to achieve, unless a student has an IEP that provides students with an alternate curriculum. This ensures that all students have access to rigorous standards-based instruction that promotes college and career success.
- I can explain EL Education's definition of differentiated instruction.
- I can explain the foundations necessary for effective differentiation to occur.
The graphic below illustrates Carol Ann Tomlinson's definition of differentiated instruction.
EL's approach to differentiated instruction aligns with Tomlinson's with an important exception: we believe that final products students create should not be differentiated. This point is addressed in depth on the Assessment page of this PLP.
Other Topics in This Pack
Not sure how to use this site? We've made a demo to walk you through the structure and features.
The graphic below describes the continuum of support that EL Education recommends be provided school-wide. Notice that the foundation for differentiated instruction is built upon engaging, relevant, and student-friendly learning targets that clearly define expectations for both the teacher and all of the students.
Pay special attention to the bottom of the triangle, which states: Most students' needs are met in the heterogeneous classroom for a focus on the same essential learning targets. This part of the triangle may be viewed as parallel to what is known in many schools as Tier I instruction. EL Education believes that schools should ensure that the instruction that happens in the regular classroom setting is highly effective through the use of appropriate differentiation before moving students into intervention groups. Excellent "first teaching," perhaps supported by the bulk of professional development and teacher coaching, potentially reduces the number of students who may need to be taught in a more restrictive setting.
Watch: Getting Started on Differentiated Instruction
Visit the videos page of Institutes on Academic Diversity and watch the clips of Carol Ann Tomlinson under "An Introduction to DI" and" Common Misconceptions about DI". Then reflect on the following questions:
What do you know about how your students best learn? What would you like to know about how your students learn? What are some strategies you can employ to learn more about them?
- Carol Ann Tomlinson says it is not about where to start but that you start. What would be a reasonable next step for you to move toward differentiating instruction for your students?
Differentiated Instruction in EL Schools: An easy-to-understand diagram illustrating the process and possibilities for differentiating instruction.
Continuum of Interventions: An EL Education document describing a variety of classroom-based strategies that can be used to differentiate instruction for students while maintaining the same learning targets for all.
Differentiated Instruction Case Study on Edutopia: A website containing case studies of schools that provide effective differentiated instruction.
- In what ways do you currently differentiate for your students? Revisit the "Differentiated Instruction" graphic for ideas. Remember that there are multiple ways that you might be differentiating for your students.
EL Education's approach to differentiation focuses on differentiating process, but not product. If you were to apply this approach in your classroom, how would your instruction change? How would it stay the same?
EL Education's Terrain of Differentiated Instruction is based upon the three-tier response model of Response to Intervention. What model of academic intervention do you use in your classroom? How does it connect to the differentiation you do?
For School Leaders...
- In what ways does your school or district currently support differentiation for your students? Revisit the "Differentiated Instruction" graphic for ideas. Remember that there are multiple ways to differentiate for students.
EL Education's approach to differentiation focuses on differentiating process, but not product. What implications does this approach have for how instruction is supported in your school or district?
EL Education's Terrain of Differentiated Instruction is based upon the three-tier response model of Response to Intervention. What model of academic intervention do you use in your school or district? How does it connect to differentiation in the classroom?