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
(View sample questions)
- Asking students to complete a KWL chart
(View example KWL chart)
Sample Questions: Self-Report Measure
Name _____________________________ Date ___________________________
- What was the purpose of the American Revolution?
- When was the American Revolution? ___________________________
- What countries fought in the American Revolution?
- Name two people who participated in the American Revolution.
- What was the outcome of the American Revolution?
Example KWL Chart
Name Cash S. Date 11/07/XX
Topic of Study The American Revolution
|What I Know||What I Want to Know||What I Learned|
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
(View sample inventory)
- Write a journal entry about themselves
- Participate in classroom ice-breaker activities
(View sample activities)
My name is ___________________________________________, and I am _________________
years old. I was born in a place called ____________________________________________
and have ____________ brothers and sisters. I have ________________ pets. They are
(describe them; dogs, cats, rabbits) _______________________________________________
and their names are _____________________________________________________________.
One of the things I like to do best is _____________________________________________.
Another thing I like to do is ____________________________________________. If I could
go anywhere in the world, it would be to ______________________________________. I
want to go there because ____________________________________________________. If I
could meet anyone, it would be ________________________________________. I want to
meet him or her because ______________________________________________. One day,
when I get older, I want to be a _________________________________________________.
Here are some of my favorite things. I love to eat __________________________________
I love to read ______________________________________________________. I love to watch
__________________________________. I love to listen to ________________________________.
My favorite color is ___________________. My favorite holiday is ______________________.
My favorite school subject is _______________________________________________________.
If I could do anything in the world, I’d _______________________________________________.
If I could have anything in the world, it would be ____________________________________.
Sample Ice-Breaker Activities
Interview your neighbor: Students work in pairs. They interview one another and then report their findings to the rest of the class. The students can interview each other about any topic, such as hobbies, sports heroes, family members, or favorite subjects.
Stranded on a desert island: Students make a list of ten items they would like to have if they were stranded on a desert island. The only items they cannot list are other people.
Biography bingo: The teacher collects a personal fact from each student and creates a bingo card with the information. The students ask questions of each other. They mark a square each time they match a fact with a classmate. The first to match five facts in a row gets a bingo.
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
(View sample questions)
- Observing the student during class
Sample Questions: Learning Profile Inventory
Name ______________________________________ Date _____________________
- I remember information better if the teacher:
- Discusses it
- Shows us pictures or diagrams
- Allows us to do a hands-on activity
- When Working on a project in class, I prefer to:
- Work in a group
- Work by myself
- Work with one peer
- When studying information for a test, I:
- Visualize the information (e.g., text on the page, diagram)
- Write down the important facts (e.g., make notecards)
- Make up a rhyme
- When I’m doing my homework, I like:
- To listen to music
- To have silence
- To work where other people are
- I enjoy:
- Building things
- Taking pictures or making movies
- Making up rap songs
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.
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).
Carol Ann Tomlinson, EdD
Professor of Educational Leadership, Foundations, and Policy
The University of Virginia
Transcript: Carol Ann Tomlinson, EdD
Effective differentiation is very natural for students with exceptionalities simply because it’s a classroom that says we can do more than one thing at a time here, and we can aim for more than one target, or we can do it in more than one way. The teacher can present information in more than one way. Kids can work with information. They can show they’re learning in more than one way. Sometimes a teacher can work with anybody. Kids can work with each other. So I think it’s much more natural in schools that I’ve observed where people really differentiate with skill. I’ve been pleased to see how many kinds of kids really find a place that works for them in a differentiated classroom. I think there clearly are kids for whom no classroom is going to be the best solution all the time. But one of the goals of differentiation is to create learning spaces that really make much more room for far more kids to learn much more vigorously and effectively. That’s really what it’s designed for.
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
Transcript: Michelle Giddens, MEd
My students with disabilities and my struggling learners and English language learners responded to differentiated instruction well. Differentiating my instruction for these students meant that I was really tapping into what their needs were as a learner, and I was able to design my instruction, really fostering growth for them and their strengths and then working on areas where they needed to improve. So it really allowed me to cater my teaching and my instruction toward their needs.