A Journey Through Technology

Week 1: What is Differentiated Instruction?

on January 22, 2016


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 unitĀ 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.


One response to “Week 1: What is Differentiated Instruction?

  1. clindquist17 says:

    One of the things that really stuck out for me on your graphic was the importance of essential questions. When I was getting my bachelor’s degree, we used Understanding by Design and had to plan our units and lessons using that template. It was a lot of work, but I loved that my lessons focused on answering my essential questions. I haven’t thought about UbD for a while, but I think I need to go back to it.

    Liked by 1 person

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