A Journey Through Technology

Week 2: How do you make decisions about your own actions for students in a differentiated classroom? What is your criteria for intervention, and/or for letting learning happen?

Right now, my classroom is not a differentiated classroom. Most of the time, all of my students are working on all of the same activities at the same time. In order to move towards a differentiated classroom, one of the first things I need to do is to determine how much my students already know. (2014) Once I know what my students know, I will be able to match my instruction “to meet the needs of individual learners.” (2006)

I use lecture a lot of the time to present topics to my students, but according to Weselby, students only retain 5-10% of the information they receive through lecture after 24 hours. (Weselby, 2014) In a differentiated classroom, students will have multiple ways of receiving information, including video, audio, readings, and lecture. (McCarthy, 2014) I will also need to adjust they way I group students in order to differentiate my classroom. “Small, mixed-ability groups allow lower achievers to take advantage of peer support whilst higher achiever gain the opportunity to organise and voice their thoughts for the benefit of the whole group (known as peer modeling). (2010)

As I work towards differentiating my classroom, I will be changing the role I play for my students. Currently, my students rely on me to be the main source of all of their information. “When teachers differentiate instruction, they move away from seeing themselves as keepers and dispensers of knowledge and move toward seeing themselves as organizers of learning opportunities.” (Tomlinson, 2001, p.16) This means I need to be able to relinquish control over student learning and “give students as much responsibility for learning as they can handle, and teach them to handle a little more.” (Tomlinson, 2001, p.16) I can be a bit of a control freak sometimes, so this will be difficult for me to do, but I am confidant in my ability to change. I think that students will also find this uncomfortable.

The past few years I have started to introduce Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) activities with my students that require them to work in small groups and learn about new ideas without any direction from me, the teacher. When I use these, students appear uncomfortable as they take the lead in their own learning. From the reading this week, I can see that I need to let students know that “it’s a good thing to ask for help when it’s needed, that it’s fine to say you don’t know” (Tomlinson, 2001, p.22) I think the reason students dislike the POGIL activities so much is that they are afraid to get things wrong. During these activities, I will admit I have a hard time letting them struggle, but I think that students need to get things wrong sometimes because it will help them understand better when they finally get it right.

Although it is uncomfortable for both myself and my students, changing my role to the organizer instead of the dispenser of knowledge will help students take more responsibility for their own learning. “Different students will be ready for differing amounts of responsibility at any given time, but all students need to be guided in assuming a growing degree of responsibility and independence as a learner and member of a community of learners.” (Tomlinson, 2001, p.23)

My mind map for this week shows the roles I think a teacher should take in a differentiated classroom.

week 2 mind map


A Teacher’s Guide to Differentiating Instruction. (2014, April 30). Retrieved January 26, 2016, from http://www.education.com/reference/article/Ref_Teacher_s_Guide/

How to Differentiate Instruction. (2006). Retrieved January 29, 2016, from http://www.fcrr.org/assessment/ET/diff/diff.html

McCarthy, J. (2014, July 23). 3 Ways to Plan for Diverse Learners: What Teachers Do. Retrieved January 29, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/differentiated-instruction-ways-to-plan-john-mccarthy

Methods of Differentiation in the Classroom. (2010). Retrieved January 29, 2016, from http://www.bbcactive.com/BBCActiveIdeasandResources/MethodsofDifferentiationintheClassroom.aspx

Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.

Weselby, C. (2014, October 1). What is Differentiated Instruction? Examples of How to Differentiate Instruction in the Classroom. Retrieved January 29, 2016, from http://education.cu-portland.edu/blog/teaching-strategies/examples-of-differentiated-instruction/

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Week 1 Reflection

This was a very hectic week for me. Yet again I waited until the last minute to get my blog post done, which I am going to try and do better on for week 2. I had a great time co-hosting Twitter with Larissa on Wednesday, and I can’t wait until our session this coming week.

I think I contributed to the learning of others mainly through the Twitter session this week. Larissa and I each came up with 5 questions, though we didn’t get through all of them, and there were some really engaging discussions shared by those who participated. Twitter was also the main source of others contributing to my learning. It was nice to see how everyone answered each question, and to see the variety of classrooms in which we all teach.

Although I didn’t have any comments from others on my blog, the process of writing my blog was very eye opening to me because I realized that I really didn’t have a grasp on what differentiation actually is. I thought of it as teaching the same concept in multiple ways, and then individualizing activities for each student. I think I’m getting a better idea of what is involved, but I look forward to the coming weeks to gain an even better understanding of what differentiation will look like in my classroom.

I look forward to next week as we delve deeper into exploring differentiation and how we will each go about trying it out in our classrooms.

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Week 1: What is Differentiated Instruction?


When I’ve thought of differentiated instruction in the past, I always thought it just meant finding different ways to present the same concept. But after reading through some different sources this week, I now know it is so much more. According to Tomlinson (2001), differentiated instruction deals not only with content, but also with the process and the product. (p.4) If I categorize differentiated instruction into those three areas, I can see that there is much more to differentiation than just using multiple methods to present concepts to students.

In the process category, three things stood out to me. The idea that the classroom should be student centered (Tomlinson, 2001, p.5) isn’t that different than a non-differentiated classroom. We should be doing things based on what is best for our students. “[Differentiated Instruction] is guided by the constructivist…approach to teaching and learning. Constructivism…is the belief that students create or construct their own knowledge and understanding by building on previous learning.” (Smith & Throne, 2009, p.31) The last aspect of process I focused on was variety in grouping students. “In a differentiated classroom, students work in a variety of configurations…for different reasons.” (Hockett, 2014)

The three aspects of content that I focused on were the use of essential questions, quality of content vs. quantity, and the use of various source materials. Essential questions are not simply answered by a “yes” or “no”, so students are required to take a more active role in their learning, and also provides a guide for writing assessments. (Frey, p.4) Quality vs. quantity refers to the common misconception that differentiation is simply assigning more work to higher level students and less work to those who struggle in class. Instead, the assignment itself should be modified to accommodate student needs. (Tomlinson, 2001, p.4) The variety of materials available to students can also be a part of differentiation. “The use of other richly detailed source materials ensures that all students have access to meaningful text (Onosko & Jorgensen, 1997, as cited in Frey, p.6)

The last aspect of differentiation is the product. My main focus for this was assessment. “Pre-assessment finds out “where” students’ abilities lie relative to your goals for a unit before that unit begins.” (Hockett, 2014) The last two parts of the product category are formal and informal assessments. Examples of informal assessments including “writing to learn” or “ticket out the door” activities (Frey, p.5) Formal assessments are those that are designed from the expectations of the unit to measure student learning. (Frey, p.5)

While my idea of differentiation was not entirely off base, I now know that there is much more to a differentiated classroom than simply providing more than one method of presenting a topic.


Frey, N. (n.d.). Differentiating Instruction in Responsive Middle and High School Classrooms. Retrieved January 12, 2016, from http://education.ky.gov/educational/diff/Documents/Frey.pdf

Hockett, J. (2014, June 27). Five Tips for Getting Started With Differentiation in a Secondary Classroom. Retrieved January 21, 2016, from http://inservice.ascd.org/five-tips-for-getting-started-with-differentiation-in-a-secondary-classroom/

Smith, G. E., & Throne, S. (2009). Differentiating instruction with technology in middle school classrooms. Eugene, Or.: International Society for Technology in Education.

Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.


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