Differentiated Instruction in Reading and Math


Differentiated Instruction in Early Childhood Settings: Reading and Math












What is differentiation?

  1. Differentiation is an approach to teaching that advocates active planning for student differences in classrooms (Dr. Katy Mezher).

  2. Differentiated instruction is an approach where by teachers adjust their curriculum and instruction to maximize the learning of all students (IRIS Module)


This can involve adjusting:

  • Content — The media and methods teachers use to impart and instruct skills, ideas and information

  • Processes — The exercises and practices students perform to better understand content

  • Products — The materials, such as tests and projects, students complete to demonstrate understanding


Steps to consider before implementing differentiation in your classroom:  

  1. Know your students and how they learn
  2. Assess your students and what they know
  3. Be flexible to adjust your assignments
  4. Question the strategies that are already in place
  5. Think about your approach to the curriculum






  1. One room school houses

    1. Teachers taught students of all different ages and abilities in one classroom

  2. Grading schools

    1. Developed when we assumed students could all learn the same thing at the same time because of age

  3. 1889- Preston Search

    1. He made it possible for students to learn at their own pace without grade repetition and failure

  4. 1912- Achievement tests Introduced

    1. These tests made people realize the differences students had were much greater than they thought because the data showed gaps in student abilities within grade levels

  5. Frederic Burk- the man who created work books

    1. He created a movement to make self instructed textbooks

  6. 1919- Burk’s ideas adapted in public school

    1. Burk’s ideas were about making sure that students could progress according to their abilities

  7. Project method

    1. Reverted back to the old ways of teaching not thinking about students individual abilities. They aimed their lessons at the average child.

  8. Ability grouping

    1. Reverted to the experiments of the 1890’s. The “slow learners” were given watered down activities while the “fast learners” were given “enriched” activities.

  9. IDEA 1975

    1. Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act which ensured that students with disabilities had equal opportunities and access to public education.

  10. No Child Left Behind 2000

    1. Schools encouraged differentiated and skill based instruction.



Benefits (Research that supports Differentiation)

  1. Eliminates the “Big-Fish-Little-Pond Effect”

    1. This effect looks at the class-average and can have a negative effect on a student’s self-concept of their achievement. By using the instructional adaptations that differentiation offers, this can eliminate students comparing their achievement to another student or the “class-average”.

  2. Allows students to take on more responsibility for their learning.

  3. Because students are more engaged during differentiated lessons, research shows that there are reportedly fewer discipline problems in classrooms with this type of instruction.

  4. Effective for multiple types of learners which include students with mild to moderate disabilities.

  5. It can include 21st century skills such as the use of technology, problem-solving, cooperative learning, creativity, and real-world examples.





Strategies in Reading and Math

  1. Use of Manipulatives

    1. Physical objects used as teaching and learning tools that engage students in hands-on learning.

      1. Math: Students can use hands on resources when they need extra support in solving problems.

      2. Reading: Using props to act out stories that are being read.

  2. Tiered Assignments

    1. Designed to instruct students on essential skills at different levels of complexity and open-endedness.

      1. Math:  Teach a lesson on measurement where some students would taught basic measurements using a ruler while others can apply measurement to higher level problems such as perimeter.

      2. Reading: After reading a book, some students could be working on picking out facts or key details while other students begin forming opinions and make inferences.

  3. Compacting

    1. Process of adjusting instruction to account for prior student mastery of other learning objectives. There are 3 steps to compacting:  (1) assess the student to determine their level of knowledge on the content, (2) create plans for what the student needs to know and excuse them from what they already know, and (3) create plans for free time to be spent in enriched or accelerated study time.

      1. Math: When teaching fractions if students already know the parts of the fraction then they are excused from the activity and they are taught to add and subtract fractions

      2. Reading: When students already know their sight words they are then excused from the activity and they are then taught words from different word families that they will see in their readings.

  4. Interest Centers/Groups

    1. Set up so learning experiences are directed towards students’ specific interest, which can motivate students because they can pick their own topic.

      1. Math: If students are working on addition, they can count items that are of high interest such as jelly beans, buttons, or Minions.

      2. Reading: Reading groups could be based on the students’ interests, such as if five students said they liked dogs, they could be in a group reading a book about dogs.

  5. Flexible Grouping

    1. A way of putting  students in groups based on different factors such readiness, interest, and learning profile. Groups can be assigned or chosen by the students. This type of grouping allows students to work with a wide variety of peers in the classroom.

      1. Math: Groups might be assigned based of readiness for direct instruction on fractions or groups may be chosen by the students for projects on investigating mathematicians.

      2. Reading: Groups may be placed together due to their reading level or their sight word knowledge or students might get to pick groups when it comes to acting out a story that they all read.


Resources for Teachers


Module that provides a complete description of what differentiated instruction is and provides resources.



What differentiation in the classroom looks like, tips, and guidelines from professionals.



Resource roundup--compilation of many resources under the topics of: Understanding Differentiated Instruction, Planning and Implementation Ideas, Knowing and Assessing Students, Teaching Diverse Learners, Differentiating with Technology, Differentiation in Project-Based Learning, and Examples and Downloads From Schools That Work



List of 20 Differentiated Instruction strategies with examples.



Resources for Parents


What is differentiated instruction and how can it help your child? This article offers information that can help parents understand and support differentiation in the classroom.



Quotes from other parents and information for parents wanting more information about differentiation.



Module that provides a complete description of what differentiated instruction is and provides resources.



Video Presentation:

Katy Mezher, PhD, Professor of Educational Psychology Miami University


Resources used in our research:

Differentiated Instruction: Maximizing the Learning of All Students. (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2017, from https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/module/di/cresource/#content

Roy, A., Guay, F., & Valois, P. (2015). The big-fish–little-pond effect on academic self-concept: The moderating role of differentiated instruction and individual achievement. Learning and Individual Differences, 42, 110-116.

Seifert, S., Schwab, S., & Gasteiger-Klicpera, B. (2016). Effects of a whole-class

reading program designed for different reading levels and the learning needs of L1 and L2 children. Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties, 32(6), 499-526.

Shipley, J. 2. (n.d.). Early Childhood Education: Implementing Developmentally Appropriate Practices into Literacy Instruction. Retrieved October 14, 2017, from http://www.wholechildeducation.org/blog/early-childhood-education-implementing-developmentally-appropriate-practice

What is Differentiated Instruction? Examples of How to Differentiate Instruction in the Classroom. (n.d.). Retrieved October 16, 2017, from https://education.cu-portland.edu/blog/classroom-resources/examples-of-differentiated-instruction/

PDF’s from scholarly sources:



Written and researched by: Courtney Wion and Carly Lefton, Early Childhood Education, Fall 2017

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