Sunday, July 15, 2012

What IS Differentiation?

I think it would be best to start with the basics.  What IS differentiation?  Well, that's a very loaded question.

Differentiation is essentially teaching in order to meet a student's needs.  However, there is so much that comes into play with meeting that student's needs.  It may be that you are differentiating according to their readiness, or ability to learn something.  It may be that you are differentiating according to a child's learning style, or how they learn best.  Differentiation is NOT, and I repeat, NOT only about a child's academic level.    Too often, that's all someone thinks about when they think of differentiating.

You differentiate to keep students engaged.  You differentiate so students are actually learning.  You differentiate because it's what students NEED.  You can differentiate according to a student's readiness, interest, and their learning style.
  • Readiness- Where the student is at.  If you have a student who comes into 1st grade having never been in kindergarten, you are going to need to spend some time working with that student on letter names and sounds as well as phoneme segmentation.  You aren't going to be able to jump into reading simple words as you may with the majority of your students.  That particular student just isn't READY for it yet.
  • Interest- This is my favorite way of differentiating.  The easiest way to differentiate for interest is by merely allowing choices.  For example, allowing students to choose which activity they do at the word work center, for example, is a way to differentiate.  Students will choose activities they are interested in, and will, more than likely, be engaged with.  Students are not likely to choose something they are going to get bored with in 5 minutes.  
  • Learning Style- How someone learns best.  While learning styles are not exactly the same as Multiple Intelligences, the two have similarities and are often confused with each other when talking about differentiation.  Visual learners, for example, will probably read ahead in a book instead of listening to someone else read it aloud.  They will gain more information from reading it themselves, as opposed to listening to the information.  Auditory learners would do the opposite.

You can differentiate the product, the process, or the content.
  • Product- The product is the end result; what the student uses to show you his/her learning.  You may allow your students to do a diorama, a mobile, or a traditional book report, for example.
  • Process- How the students get there.  If you are a science teacher, for example, maybe you provide page numbers for your LD students to look up information, whereas most students have to find the information on their own.  That way, the reading doesn't bog them down as they are trying to learn the content knowledge.
  • Content- What the students are learning.  You may be a third grade teacher who has a student who is ready waaaaay below grade level.  Your reading instruction with that student may be on basic sight words and phonics that most of the students in your classroom don't need.
So, how do you know which way to differentiate?  Well, you have to know your students.  You probably are not going to differentiate the content very much because you and the students are accountable to standards, even though different content is what many people automatically think about when they think about differentiating.  Differentiating content is generally used most often with those students who are performing well above or below the bulk of your class.  Differentiating products is a way many people already differentiate in their classrooms- some without even realizing that they're doing it!

I hope this post has shared with you some ideas on how differentiation is so much more than what some realize.  I also hope it helps you identify some things you are already doing in your classroom to differentiate.  


  1. Thanks for the info! I look forward to reading more in the near future!!!

    1. Thanks for commenting and being a follower so soon!

  2. OOOhhhh, I'm excited for this blog. I'm hoping to start a masters in differentiation this fall!

    Cathy :)

    1. Keep checking back! I'm hoping it gets off to a great start in the next few weeks!

  3. I'm excited to read more of your posts!!

    Lovin’ Kindergarten