Not all students are alike. Based on this knowledge, differentiated instruction applies an approach to teaching and learning that gives students multiple options for taking in information and making sense of ideas. Differentiated instruction is a teaching theory based on the premise that instructional approaches should vary and be adapted in relation to individual and diverse students in classrooms.

To differentiate instruction is to recognize students’ varying background knowledge, readiness, language, preferences in learning and interests, and to react responsively. Differentiated instruction is a process to teaching and learning for students of differing abilities in the same class. The intent of differentiating instruction is to maximize each student’s growth and individual success by meeting each student where he or she is and assisting in the learning process.

Because “one size does not fit all for student learners,” by differentiating the learning, students scores will ascend to proficiency and beyond. The following components will be employed to accomplish the goal:

1) Several materials are used to support instructional content;
2) Tasks are aligned to objectives and learning goals;
3) Instruction is concept-focused and principle-driven;
4) Classroom management benefits the students and teachers;
5) Initial an on-going assessment of student readiness and growth are essential;
6) Students are active and responsible explorers;
7) It varies expectations and requirements for student responses;
8) It clarifies key concepts and generalizations;
9) Uses assessment as teaching tool to extend rather merely measure instruction;
10) Emphasize critical and creative thinking as a goal;
11) Engaging all learners is essential;
12) Providing a balance between teacher –assigned and student-selected tasks.

In addition to a host of others, the following texts will serve as the primary sources.

Dodge, Judith. Differentiation in Action. New York: Scholastic, 2005.

Dweck, Carol. “Motivational Processes Affecting learning.” American Psychologist, 41 (1986): 1040-48.

Jensen, Eric Teaching with the Brain in Mind. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1998.

Tomlinson, Carol Ann. How To Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms 2nd ed. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2001

Tomlinson, Carol Ann. The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners.

Wiggin, Grant and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design: Expanded Second Edition. Alexandria, Virginia: Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Students in the Novel II class will select one novel they will teach each other. This unit will follow at least three teacher lead presentations of lecture, small group, and class novel units. Students will divide assignments up to the number of pages of the novel to the number of students presenting. Each student is responsible for content, insight and literary meanings. Students will write out test questions from their presentation and the accumulative questions will be the test over their novel. Students will be asked 15 questions comparing the two different styles of delivery and educational learning styles. Each student will also be asked to write a one page analysis of the two styles of presentations and formulating their opinion on outcomes as well as information garnered.

Students in English II after a few short stories into the unit to establish a vague baseline, one section will be divided into groups for a lesson. Section one will have the lesson presented in a traditional manner, and evaluated traditionally. Section two will be divided into groups where they will discuss different aspects of the story and present their findings to the class. Once done, the assessments will be evaluated to determine if differentiation effected the outcome.

For English Language Learners, differentiation is used in nearly all aspects of teaching. One example used is in fourth grade where the novel Sarah Plain and Tall is read as a class. Then story elements are discussed, such as characterization, plot, and setting. Once that is completed, students select a sequel, Caleb's Story or Skylark, to be individually read. After completing the novel, they complete a comparison of their book with Sarah Plain and Tall, analyzing the story elements between the two. They will also complete a book talk for their classmates. Finally, in the student directed lessons, they share their analyses and attempt to merge them to generate a wider understanding of the series.

Comments: Differentiated instruction is a great subject to research. Your list of twelve components that will be employed to accomplish your goal----improved scores---definitely shows that "one size does not fit all". These same twelve components can be aligned with the 5 characteristics of effective instruction that the Iowa Core Curriculum is expecting teachers to implement in the classrooms also. The references you have from Tomlinson may include some ways of tracking the data (charts, surveys, etc.) related to a differentiated instructional classroom.

Plan: To implement differentiated student-led Novels II unit where the students present reading insights as well class discussions. Students will lecture, quiz, and write the test over the novel A Walk to Remember. Each student will be assigned pages to be presented and will be asked to dress up for the presentation.

Expectations: Because “one size does not fit all,” it is imperative that a variety of teaching strategies be used in a differentiated classroom.

Engaging students in the learning process using activities that motivate and challenge students to remain on task is probably one of the most frustrating events in the teaching/ learning process. But if teachers know their students’ profiles, they have a better chance at keeping them on task to complete any given assignment or activity. In a differentiated classroom, activities are suited to the needs of students according to the mixed ability levels, interests, backgrounds, etc. Good activities require students to develop and apply knowledge in ways that make sense to them and that they find meaningful and relevant.

I hope students will be more engaged with the presentations and feel more ownership with this unit.

Data: Based on the end of the unit survey, students prefer teacher-presented units to student-presented. Students were asked many questions about engagement, material learned, enjoyment of student-delivered and presented styles, to confidence in content learned. In both males and females (all juniors), they chose the teacher-presented format. The average score for student-presented classroom was 5.3 out of a 10 point possible scale. The average score for teacher-presented format was 8.1 out of a 10 point scale.

Comments from students:

  1. The styles change too often between students.
  2. Teacher looks deeper than the surface.
  3. I learn more from teachers.
  4. The teacher’s examples are better to help me understand.
  5. Deeper meanings were missed in student presentations.
  6. Teachers have experience in their field of study.
  7. I learned nothing other than what I read. Please do not do this again.
  8. There was no author style or background information given.

Discussion: Students all were ready for their presentations and seemed excited to present. Each student quizzed the class over their assignment and then facilitated the lesson. The class was engaged but did not ask any questions over the lessons. I did notice the class seemed not as involved in the lessons; they took notes and were polite but seemed to just be going through the motions. Time given for this unit was the same as if I were presenting it.

I, too, have the same concerns as Dave when students are doing their level of projects, which we were told is a must, grading those different levels of projects. Grading a report with critical thinking skills and grading a poster for the same unit grade is unfair. My group asked presenters two times how to grade students that are presenting material or final projects that are at each end of the difficulty charts, and both times they did not know.

The other concern I have is the amount of information not given in the presentations. It is very difficult to sit back and watch and listen and not jump in and take over the lesson. I would estimate about 60 percent of the deeper meanings and literary devices were missed in the student presentations. Content that educators are skilled in and experienced in delivering was noticeably missed.

I enjoyed watching the students try this unit, and I will do this again. But the students did not like this style at all; I will look into ways to solve their difficulties. Teachers should never stop learning, and we must be willing to change; we owe this to our students.

Plan: To implement a differentiated lesson and to test its effectiveness. The plan was to teach two sections, one using differentiated methodology and one maintaining a traditional technique.

Expectations: The hope was that the lower level learners would display a marked
improvement in their comprehension and that would be reflected in their test scores.

Data: Based on two evaluations, the differentiated learners improved their scores. The average score on the first evaluation was 7.12; that improved to an average of 7.63 after the second evaluation. This was based on all students in the class. Breaking the class into high level learners, mid level learners, and low level learners, the data reveals the following:

high level learners: 20 percent improvement
mid level learners: 75 percent improvement
low level learners: 66 percent improvement.

Based on the same evaluations, the non-differentiated section also improved their scores from an average of 7.36 to 8.6. Using the same breakdown of students, the data displays the following:
high level learners: 50 percent improvement
mid level learners: 83.3 percent improvement
low level learners: 57.1 percent improvement.

The overall improvement data shows that the non-differentiated section improved their scores 68 percent while the differentiated section improved their scores 57.8 percent.

Discussion: The groups were fairly good at remaining focused on their goals. They engaged in productive discussion, sometimes bordering on spirited. The student led class discussion was satisfactory. While the students required a bit of guidance on some specifics, the students did identify many of the goals of the lessons.

Because the scores were only marginally different between the two groups, it will be enlightening to see what the scores on the final evaluation reflect: will the differentiated section show enhanced retention over the non-differentiated group.

The students certainly displayed unfamiliarity with the methodology, not being accustomed to taking notes when students are presenting the material. That should resolve itself over time after implementing a consistent differentiated approach.

Another concern arose with the simple reorganization of the classroom organization; it took way too much time for students to assemble in their groups. Again, repetition of the process could resolve that problem.

A large obstacle to overcome is the necessity to reorganize the curriculum to accommodate the additional time necessary to utilize the differentiation method. It took two and a half classes to present a lesson contrasted to a teacher led class that took one class. A priority check would be necessary to determine if the method’s demand for more class time is in the best interest of educating students thoroughly—the old question of quality versus quantity raises its divisive head.

The largest obstacle to negotiate is evaluation. Do those who are only capable of identifying plot receive a grade equal to those who develop the theme or relationship/relevancy to today? No one in the meetings our group attended nor anything in the literature provides an acceptable response to that question. Nor do many even provide a reasonable effort to solve that dilemma.

Finally, because of the small sample size, sweeping generalizations are to be avoided. But the format is in place for further exploration and experimentation.

Plan: To implement a differentiated unit and compare it with a traditionally
“teacher taught” unit. My fourth grade ELL students completed a
traditional unit by reading Sarah, Plain and Tall in class together, and
completing comprehension and vocabulary questions. As a comparison,
students chose one of three sequels to Sarah, Plain and Tall for the
differentiated unit. They read the books independently and worked on
story elements such as character, conflict, plot and setting. After
completing the novel, the students will give a presentation on their novels
to their classmates.

Expectations: Hopefully, at the completion of the unit, the students will have taken
more ownership for their learning and will have demonstrated this
through their discussions and presentations. By choosing their own
novels and type of presentation, hopefully they will be more engaged
in their learning. They have the prior knowledge of story elements
from previous lessons to guide their studies.

Data: The projects will not be completed until the end of May as students are
still working on finishing their novels and presentations. The class only
meets on days 3 and 6 for half hour time segments.

Discussion: The students have been working very diligently on completing their
novel studies. They come to class and eagerly initiate discussions
with each other about what is happening in each of their novels and how
they are all connected. They have been very engaged in their learning and
have been excited to come up with ideas for their presentations.
Suggested ideas so far have included pioneer life and comparing life in
Maine with life in Kansas. The students have made good use of their
time to read and work on their activities. Time constraints have been
an issue and the unit has taken more time than originally planned.
Hopefully the quality of the presentations is higher since they are
eager to tell about their novels and see how all of the pieces of the story
fit together. They are putting forth the effort to really make their projects
their own.

After the projects were completed and presented, the students were given a questionnaire about it. They were asked what they liked and disliked about the project, what they would change for future novel studies, if they would like to do the same type of project again, and if they preferred the independent type of project or one completed together as a class.

All students replied that presenting the novels through projects made them seem “more real”. They liked being able to make their own choices as far as presentations.

After having some guidance as far as expectations, the students replied that they liked working independently at their own pace and enjoyed doing “their own thing.”

They also all agreed that they would like to do this kind of project again because it was “interesting” and they were able to “give information to their classmates” about their projects. They said they were able to learn about three books in the series, rather than just one if they would have done the project together as a class.

They did feel that time was an issue. The class met on days three and six for a half hour time slot. Therefore, it took a long time to complete the projects.