Differentiated Instruction

 At a basic level- differentiated instruction means "shaking up" what goes on in the classroom so that students have multiple options for taking in information, making sense of ideas, and expressing what they learn.  This goal is met when each student can learn effectively in the classroom.

What Differentiated Instruction IS...

  • Proactive-The teacher proactively plans a variety of ways to "get at" and express learning.
  • Qualitative- Many teachers incorrectly assume that differentiated instruction means giving some students more work to do, and others less. Adjust the nature of the assignment to match the student needs instead of adjusting the quantity of an assignment.
  • Rooted in Assessment-Throughout a unit, in a variety of ways, teachers assess students' developing readiness levels, interests, and mode of learning. Then teachers design learning experiences based on their best understanding.
  • Multiple Approches -By differentiating the three elements of content, process, and product, teachers offer different approaches to what students learn, how they learn, and how they demonstrate what they have learned.
  • Student Centered-Differentiated classrooms are most effective when they are engaging, relevant, and interesting.  Learners need to be active in making and evaluating decisions within the classroom.
  • Organic- Students and teachers are learners together.  Differentiated instruction is dynamic: Teachers monitor the match between learner and learning and make adjustments as warranted

What Differentiated Instruction IS NOT... 

  • Individulized Instruction-Each learner in the classroom does not need to have individualized instruction.
  • Chaotic-Effective differentiated classrooms include a purposeful student movement and some purposeful student talking. They are NOT disorderly or undisciplined.

    Teachers who differentiate instruction focus on their role as coach or mentor. They give students as much responsibility for learning as they can handle, and teach them to handle a little more.

These Teachers Grow in Their Ability to:

  • Assess student readiness through a variety of means.
  • Read and interpret student clues about interests and learning preferences
  • Create a variety of ways students can gather information and ideas.
  • Develop varied ways students can explore and express ideas.
  • Present varied channels through which students can express and expand understanding.

The Learning Environment in a Differentiated Classroom:

  • Everyone feels welcomed and contributes to everyone else feeling welcomed.
  • Mutual respect is nonnegotiable.
  • Students feel safe in the classroom.
  • There is a pervasive expectation of growth.
  • The teacher teaches for success.
  • A new sort of fairness is evident.
  • The teachers and students collaborate for mutual growth and success.

Managing a Differentiated Classroom: The Basics:

  • Have a strong rationale for differentiating instruction based on student readiness, interest, and learning profile.
  • Begin differentiating at a pace that is comfortable for you.
  • Time differentiated activities to support student success.
  • Use an "anchor activity" to free you and focus your attention on your students
  • Create and deliver instructions carefully.
  • Assign students into groups or seating areas smoothly.
  • Be sure students have a plan for getting help when you are busy with another student or group.
  • Minimize noise.
  • Make a plan for students to turn in work.
  • Minimize "stray" movement.
  • Promote on-task behavior.
  • Have a plan for "quick finishers" in your class.
  • Give your students as much responsibility for their learning as possible.
  • Engage your students in talking about classroom procedures and group processes.

The HOW TO of Planning Differentiated classrooms:

Low Prep Differentiation:

  • Choices of books
  • Homework options
  • Use of reading buddies
  • Varied journal prompts 
  • Student- Teacher goal setting 
  • Work alone/together
  • Whole-to-part and part-to-whole explanations
  • Flexible seating
  • Let's make a deal projects 
  • Use collaboration, independence, and cooperation 
  • Open-ended activities 
  • Mini- lessons 
  • Games to practice mastery of information and skill 
  • Multiple levels of questions

High Prep Differentiation:

  • Tiered activities and labs.
  • Independent studies
  • Multiple tasks
  • Alternative assignments 
  • Learning contracts
  • Multiple intelligence options 
  • Graphic organizers 
  • Community mentorship's 
  • Interest groups 
  • Tiered centers 
  • Interest centers 
  • Personal agendas
  • Literature circles
  • Stations 
  • Group investigation


It is important for each student's academic growth to have parental involvement.  A teacher in a differentiated classroom must inform the parents of his/her plans and help them develop a clear and positive understanding of differentiation.  The teacher must share his/her learning goals with the parents.

Let Parents Know:

  • Differentiated Instruction will ensure that each student grows in all important skill and knowledge areas.
  • The teacher will be closely involved in assessing and monitoring skills, knowledge levels, interests, and effective ways of learning for each student and will design lessons around this information.
  • Each lesson will reflect the teacher's current understanding of what is necessary for each child to grow in knowledge and skills.  This will change and evolve as the child grows throughout the year.
  • The teacher will be more than happy to discuss any student/issues with his or her parents at any time throughout the year and will be open to listening to and sharing perspectives on the child.
  • An important goal in the classroom is to help each student become a more independent learner.


Here are some guidelines to help a teacher in a differentiated classroom develop a working record keeping system:

  • Don't do away with the gradebook, just re-label columns to fit each student.
  • Keep student work in folders that students maintain and become a running record of the work they complete.
  • Share record-keeping responsibilities with the students.
  • Not all work has to be formally graded - teacher observations and notes are just as important for the teacher to determine students' areas of need.
  • Allow students to participate in student-led parent conferences as a way to involve students and parents in the learning process.

The National Council for Disabilities


  • This website can prove useful in many ways to teachers looking for alternative options in teaching and instructing students with disabilities.