Teachers will tell you that their greatest thrill is reaching all of their students in a meaningful way. They will also tell you that their greatest frustration is trying to reach all of their students in a meaningful way … and failing. In today’s inclusive classrooms, reaching every student can be a challenging task, especially when using the traditional “one-size-fits-all” approach.

That’s why we need new approaches.

One such approach is differentiated instruction. Teachers achieve differentiation when they tap into their repertoire of strategies to create instruction appropriate to the standards, content, and learner needs. The skillful use of these strategies raises the level of success and growth for all students. In contrast, differentiation does not involve lowering expectations.

Today’s children come to school with many different educational experiences. They also have different levels of readiness, different learning styles and, of course, different interests. Even on the most superficial level, it’s clear that “one-size-fits-all” just doesn’t work anymore (if, in fact, it ever did). But differentiated instruction isn’t superficial. It’s based on the well-studied and scientifically proven idea that reaching students where they are – right now – empowers them as learners and promotes their success.

Differentiated instruction (DI) can be defined as a way of teaching in which teachers proactively adjust curriculum, teaching methods, resources, and learning activities to maximize the learning opportunity for each student in the classroom. This overview of differentiated instruction will unpack the definition for you, with emphasis on the nuts and bolts of how you can use differentiated instruction with your students. Some of the key areas include:

Also on the site, you’ll find a differentiated instruction scenario and a wide array of DI resources.

Reaching all of your students all of the time can be a challenging task, but using a new teaching approach can also be pretty challenging. The fact is, though, that you almost certainly differentiate some of your instruction already, meaning that you don’t use the exact same approach with every one of your students. As you’ll see throughout this site, implementing differentiated instruction does not require that you throw out your current techniques and start from scratch – it’s really more about adding to the repertoire of successful strategies that you’re already using.

Tip

Technology offers multiple ways to differentiate instruction. Used effectively, technology encourages innovation, engages learners, and a gives teachers the tools they need to meet the demands of teaching diverse groups of students. Visit the Maryland Society for Education Technology (MSET) to learn more about an organization that promotes the innovative and effective use of educational technology.

STRATEGY

Mr. Roberts, a fifth-grade-teacher, is presenting a unit on reptiles. He knows that there are many ways to approach the subject. In the past he has lectured about it and assigned workbook pages that relate to the content.

Now in addition to his oral presentation, he is differentiating his instruction by offering students the chance to watch a documentary on reptiles; build reptile models; write a story or myth involving reptiles; and even identify clothes which are made of lizard skin.

Each of these different approaches “speaks” to a child in a different way. By considering children individually, you increase their interest and engagement in the curriculum and instruction. While this might sound like a revision of your curriculum and a lot of work, it doesn’t necessarily have to be.

There are a variety of ways a teacher can take the current curriculum and easily redesign the instruction to engage a wider variety of learners. You can expand your repertoire of instructional strategies by exploring the rest of this site.

EVIDENCE-BASED PRACTICES

All Means All is a framework for the implementation of evidence-based instructional strategies in mathematics that promote mathematical understanding and achievement of elementary students with special needs. The framework provides users with resources and research to support a variety of pedagogical practices. Click here to explore the All Means All framework and to see a list of team members who helped to create this interactive tool.