What is Differentiated Learning?

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) states that differentiated learning refers to the educational goal of maximizing individual student achievement by recognizing that everyone has unique ways of responding to learning and classroom instruction.

Differentiated Instruction

Hundreds of years ago, educators mistakenly assumed that all same-aged children should learn the same materials at the same pace. After the implementation of achievement and intelligence tests in the 20th century, there was clear evidence that gaps in abilities and competencies were much greater than previously realized. Educators started to focus on providing individualized classroom experiences and publishers started the transition of making textbooks self-instructive.

Differentiated learning, which is often referred to as differentiated instruction, is a model and method of teaching that challenges teachers to analyze students in order to deliver customized experiences that maximize learning. The word differentiation refers to teachers providing students with multiple alternatives for learning new information. Differentiating instruction means that teachers will observe and interact with students in order to understand their similarities and differences with other students. Based on their findings, they will plan individualized instruction.

The Foundational Principles

Differentiated instruction relies on key pedagogical principles. First, teachers and administrators recognize that diversity of learning. Each student has unique expertise and experience with regards to reading, writing, speaking, thinking and problem solving. Second, students are offered multiple choices for their reading and writing projects and experiences. When teachers negotiate with students, they can create a favorable feeling, meet varied interests and motivate students to excel in their work.

Third, ongoing learning assessments enable teachers to create differentiated tasks and lessons that meet every students’ needs. As teachers continually assess students’ strengths and improvement areas, they can help their students move forward. Fourth, group work allows students to collaborate with others, observe different learning styles and engage in meaningful discussions. Fifth, differentiated instruction should revolve around proactive problem solving and the exploration of alternative ways of understanding key concepts.

Standard Practices

When it comes to differentiated reading instruction, read-aloud materials are an excellent way to build background knowledge and show students how you apply learning strategies. They are useful for introducing issues, inviting students to respond and ensuring that every student understands the same information. Teaching with diverse texts at diverse reading levels will enable every student to gather information and select books they can truly read. Teachers who use a differentiated whole-class instructional approach should organize their instruction to meet all reading levels.

Teachers should designate up to 30 minutes a few times a week of class time to allow students to read books at their own comfort and competency levels. Teachers can demonstrate value for independent reading by showing students how to construct meaning and understand content while reading. Modeling thinking strategies while reading from texts aloud will help with one-to-one instructional activities with students. Encouraging discussion is important for differentiated reading because it provides an effective way to build on existing knowledge and an excellent opportunity to clarify meanings.

The educators who focus more on differentiated learning are usually education specialists, academic coaches, immersion teachers and special educators. Keep in mind that all these educators will have at least a bachelor’s degree related to education and a license from the state.