What is Differentiation?
Differentiation is a way of saying that instruction should be adjusted so that all students' needs are met, from the struggling learner to the most gifted student.
There is no magic formula for differentiation. Rather, it is a philosophy of teaching that includes a wide variety of adaptations and strategies. For instance, teachers should provide a range of assignments/activities to allow for differences in:
- learning styles (student preferences for learning by seeing, by doing, or by hearing),
- multiple intelligences (student strengths in a specific area - linguistic, spatial, interpersonal, etc.),
- interests (students with different interests allowed to pursue independent studies).
The pace of instruction can be adjusted so students can progress through topics more quickly or more slowly. Compacting, a process of pre-testing and condensing content, can help teachers with changing the pace of class instruction. Students can also work on contracts which allow them to pursue independent studies or work ahead. These students re-join the class when necessary, taking quizzes, etc. to monitor understanding of basic topics covered in class.
Students should be provided with open-ended activities to challenge their thinking, both creatively and in problem solving. Teachers can ask "What if..." questions such as, "What if the Roman Empire still dominated Europe today?" Or, students can compare two usually unrelated items to promote creative thinking: "What musical composition would best represent the Civil War? Why?"
Problem solving skills can be enhanced by using techniques such as inquiry. In inquiry lessons, teachers present students with a puzzling situation, such as a mystery historical object which students try to identify. Students may only ask questions which can be answered by a "yes" or a "no." They may research information to help in their questioning. By using open-ended prompts, every student is engaged in learning, and can answer in as much detail as he/she is able.
Sometimes differentiation can be as simple as providing reading selections at a variety of reading levels, or allowing students who solve the hardest problem on the math page to have a different math assignment that evening. It might be that the spellers who pass a pre-test can skip the spelling for the week or are given more challenging words. Whatever form differentiation takes, it tailors instruction to better meet individual needs.