Differentiating across students
Differentiating learning can be achieved in the classroom through the readiness, interests and learning profiles of students. Readiness is necessary for student growth, interest is necessary for motivation to learn, and tapping into learning preferences enables efficiency of learning.
Readiness refers to the skill level and background knowledge of the student and diagnostic assessments are used to determine a student's readiness.
It's important to realise that readiness is not a synonym for academic ability since a student with high ability can struggle with a particular topic or subject, and a less able student can be strong in some areas. So it's important to view each student with their current knowledge, understanding, skill, and the classroom working conditions, rather than any perceived notion of a student’s ability.
Learning is possible when a student progressively encounters work that is just a little too hard and when scaffolding makes it possible for the student to achieve at the new level of expectations.
It is most important to attend to readiness when students work towards the same learning intention/goal. In most classrooms, whatever the learning intention/goal, it is likely to be too demanding for some students and too easy for others unless the teacher addresses readiness differences in some way.
Differentiating for readiness involves:
- constructing tasks at different levels of difficulty
- providing learning choices at different levels of difficulty.
To differentiate for readiness:
- adjust the degree of difficulty of a task to provide an appropriate level of challenge
- add or remove teacher or peer coaching, use ‘hands-on’ tasks, presence or absence of models for a task (scaffolding)
- make the task more or less familiar based on the proficiency of the learners’ experiences or skills for the task
- vary direct instruction by small group need
- use text sets (collections of texts on same topic/concept, different levels of difficulty)
- use tiered assignments
- provide reading support for difficult texts
- provide graphic organisers to support note-taking
- add student-specific goals to checklists for success.
Interest refers to topics that students may want to explore or topics that will motivate them.
Interest and motivation are closely linked, and when motivation to learn increases, student outcomes are likely to be more favourable. To assume there is not time to address student interests is to assume there is no time to motivate students to learn.
Differentiating for student interests involves:
- showing students how the subjects taught connect with their particular interests
- helping students discover new interests by providing an engaging curriculum
- aligning key skills and material for understanding with topics or pursuits that interest students, for example, a student can learn much about a culture or time period by carefully analysing its music.
To differentiate for student interests:
- use adults or peers with prior knowledge to serve as mentors in an area of shared interest
- provide a variety of avenues for student exploration of a topic or expression of learning
- provide broad access to a wide range of materials and technologies
- offer a choice of tasks and products, including student-designed options
- encourage investigation or application of key concepts and principles in student interest areas
- connect content with students’ cultures, experiences, and talents
- use interest centres, interest groups, specialty groups or expert groups
- use jigsaw groups
- offer choice in topics for reading materials
- offer sub-topic choices within an area of study/ topic.
Learning profile is shaped by at least 3 overlapping factors: learning style, group and environmental preferences.
Differentiating for learning profiles involves:
- uncovering student learning profiles
- balancing presentations and learning experiences according to learning profiles
- offering choice in learning experiences and ways to demonstrate learning.
To differentiate for learning profiles:
- create a learning environment with flexible spaces and learning options
- present information through auditory, visual and kinaesthetic modes
- encourage students to explore information and ideas through auditory, visual and kinaesthetic modes
- allow students to work alone or with peers
- ensure a choice of competitive, cooperative and independent learning experiences
- balance varied perspectives on an issue or topic
- provide authentic learning opportunities in various intelligence or talent areas
- show part-to-whole and whole-to-part relationships
- create assessments that respond to different learning modes.
- Tomlinson, C. 2006. An Educator’s Guide to Differentiating instruction. Cengage Learning. USA.
- Tomlinson, C. A. & Allan, S. D. 2000 Leadership for Differentiating Schools and Classrooms. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.