I recently had a reader ask me to clarify the difference between tracking and differentiation. I said that tracking refers to the systematic grouping of students into classes based on their overall achievement. By contrast, differentiated instruction is the adjusting of lesson activities and tasks for students in a single class who are at different levels.
Most teachers face the daunting task of teaching a wide range of skill levels in a single class. They must stimulate and engage intellectually gifted students, while simultaneously scaffolding curriculum to support students at a lower level. This delicate balance is what many argue separates the best teachers from the herd.
Differentiated instruction involves assessing individual students to determine where they are in terms of content knowledge or skill level, then using a variety of strategies to effectively create curriculum that is, in effect, individualized.
Teachers may use any of the following strategies to differentiate instruction in a given class:
- Design curriculum of varied complexity
- Use a variety grouping strategies
- Modify expectations for outcomes
- Tailor delivery
- Provide tiered projects
- Use technology/adaptive software to personalize practice
Differentiated instruction excites the brilliant student to uncover deeper layers of learning, while simultaneously structuring curriculum to support lower level students or students with learning disabilities–both identified and unidentified.
Just as consumers know that a one-size-fits-all won’t work when buying a pair of jeans, educators know that one standard approach to teaching will not meet the needs of all–or even most–students. Without an attempt to vary instruction to meet the individual needs of each student, the curriculum is bound to bore some and baffle others. Differentiating instruction is the key to reaching all students.
Do you have tips or strategies you have found useful differentiating your instruction? If so, please post a comment and share them!