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Differentiated Instruction: What is it?

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Just like there are many personalities and temperaments in any given classroom regardless of age, status, race, gender, there is also a wide variety of learning levels and learning styles in any given classroom. The problem with much of the instruction in the classroom, however, is that it is geared primarily around a curriculum developed to reach students based on age, and the method of delivery is pedagogical telling, or more simply, lecturing and note taking. With this approach, gifted learners, that is learners that are academically and intellectually beyond their age, learners that are struggling to keep up with the standards of their academic age, and learners that function and retain information best under a modality other than hearing lectures and taking notes are being neglected. This approach will no doubt hinder a student’s ability to achieve academically, reach intellectually appropriate learning capacities, and even negatively affect the motivation and desire to learn. The solution to this dilemma is to implement differentiate learning programs in schools and provide teachers with the necessary education and tools for these programs to be successful. I will provide a comprehensive definition of differentiated teaching.

I realize differentiated instruction is a buzz term these days, and a topic of much debate since it is fairly new in it's theoretical approach.

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  3. After reading this blog, you may be interested in assessing yourself to see what your learning style is, and what your intelligence(s) area is also. Here are some links to reputable online assessments that may help you.
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What is Differentiated Instruction?

Differentiated teaching is specific instruction established to form a curriculum specific to individuals and/or small groups based on intellectual capacity.  This means that in a single class, students may be working on a core curriculum while some may be supplementing that curriculum with additional, often more advanced material, and perhaps at an accelerated pace adapted according to student’s needs.  Differentiated teaching is designed to meet the needs of a wide variety of learning capacities and styles.  It is recommended for teachers, parents, and students to work together to develop lessons that are most appropriate to the students. 

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There are two ways in which to meet the needs of students individually: student learning styles, and intellectual ability where some students may be identified as gifted learners. Learning styles include: active, reflective, sensing, intuitive, visual, verbal, sequential, and global.  An active learner retains information best through discussion, application, and explanation by oneself to others whereas reflective learners prefer working alone so they can think and brew over the information quietly.  Likewise, sensing learners are more inclined to pay attention to facts, details, and love memorization whereas intuitive learners love concepts, theories, and innovative ideas that result in new possibilities.  Visual learners differ from verbal learners in that they retain information they see.  Pictures, flow charts, films, diagrams are all great tools for visual learners.  Verbal learners on the other hand place a higher value in words, written explanations, and lectures and are more inclined to overlook pictures, charts, and diagrams altogether.  Sequential learners understand the step-by-step process and will later connect the steps for the overall big picture.  Global learners are the opposite.  Global learners get the big picture first and often struggle to understand how each step interact with the next in relation to the overall picture.  What kind of learner are you?  In a differentiated class, it is essential for the teacher to assess and understand each of these learning styles in order to incorporate them into the curriculum.  Each style is equally important in guiding students’ learning.

Additionally, there are eight identified categories of intelligences: kinesthetic or physical body intelligence, logical or understanding of numbers and problems, intrapersonal or understanding of oneself, visual/spatial or understand of how things may best be positioned within a space or geographical location, linguistic or understanding words, word families and roots, syntax, and the ability to easily learn new languages, interpersonal or understanding people, musical or understanding sounds and rhythms, tones and pitches, and naturalistic or understanding the world of plants and animals).  Most people can identify with at least one, and some up to three of the categories where they excel.  Which of these intelligences can you identify for yourself?  For your children?  These multiple intelligences are especially important to identify in secondary education because a student may be more advanced in a particular subject such as language and literature.  However, that same student may not be advanced in other subject areas such as nature, kinesthetic, or visual/spatial.  Therefore, the student may only need a differentiated program in language and literature related subject matter such as English or History, or Spanish. 

Finally, intellectual ability plays a crucial role in a differentiated class, especially since students with a higher capacity to learn at an accelerated pace are more inclined to get bored with repeated information, and lack interest in school as a result.  Similar to differentiated instruction is flexible pacing.  Teachers can identify gifted learners by a variety of assessments and tools, which I will discuss in a supplemental blog.  Since I am focusing on secondary education English classes, some of the characteristics that are found in students that are gifted readers, for example, include reading earlier than peers, reading independently once classroom instruction on reading begins, they read better, they read for longer durations of time and spend more hours reading in any given week, and they read a greater variety of literature which expands as they grow into adolescents typically starting with fiction expanding into historical fiction, historical documents, commentary, and biography (Halsted). 

Halsted, Judith Wynn. "Guiding the Gifted Reader." ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education (ERIC EC). Web. 26 Oct. 2009. <>.


sdipple from Ohio on July 06, 2010:

Excellent article. You hit on key reasons why teachers must use differentiation in the classroom to meet our students needs. It is especially refreshing to read this from a secondary level as I teach primary. Enjoyed it!

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