How do teachers differentiate instruction?
Page 3: Know Your Students
As discussed previously, when they differentiate instruction, teachers design lessons to address the needs of groups of students. Before teachers can do this, however, they must first get to know their students in terms of:
Readiness Interest Learning Profile
Readiness refers to a student’s knowledge and skill level regarding given content. A student’s readiness level might vary across subjects or content areas. For example, a student may have extensive knowledge about ancient Egypt but have little knowledge about the Incan civilization. Additionally, a student’s readiness may be influenced by his or her background knowledge, life experiences, or previous learning. Teachers can determine the level at which a student is working in a given subject area by:
Did You Know?
Learning occurs when a student is asked to complete a task that is just beyond what he or she can do independently, or, in other words, in his or her proximal zone of development.
- Examining the results of formal or informal tests (e.g., standardized test, unit pre-test)
- Viewing a student’s academic record
- Examining work samples
- Administering a student self-report measure (click here for sample questions)
- Asking students to complete a KWL chart (click here for an example KWL chart)
Interest refers to topics, skills, or activities that pique a student’s curiosity or inspire him or her. Teachers can discover their students’ interests by determining what topics they enjoy or which activities they engage in outside of class. They can do so by asking students to:
- Discuss their interests
- Complete an interest inventory (click here for a sample inventory)
- Write a journal entry about themselves
- Participate in classroom ice-breaker activities (click here for sample activities)
Learning profile refers to a student’s preferred method of learning new information or skills (e.g., visually, hands-on, through deductive means) and to environmental factors that influence a student’s learning (e.g., small group, bright lights, no distractions). A student’s profile can also be influenced by gender and culture. For example, students from cultural backgrounds that value cooperation over competition may perform better in a small group versus working independently. Teachers can assess a student’s preferred method of learning by:
- Administering an inventory or questionnaire (click here for sample questions)
- Observing the student during class
For Your Information
When they collect information to better understand a student’s learning profile, teachers should also take note of each student’s affect, or emotions and feelings. Teachers should strive to understand how students feel about themselves and what makes each of them feel successful or discouraged.
Carol Ann Tomlinson, EdD
Professor of Educational Leadership,
Foundations, and Policy
The University of Virginia
Teachers are often concerned about their ability to teach students with disabilities in the general education classroom. Carol Ann Tomlinson discusses how a differentiated classroom meets the needs of a wide range of students (time: 1:02).
Michelle Giddens discusses how differentiated instruction allowed her to better meet the needs of students with diverse needs (time: 0:33).
Michelle Giddens, MEd
Assistant Principal Intern
Former Third-Grade Teacher