What is differentiated instruction?

According to Tomlinson (2001), “differentiating instruction means “shaking up” what goes on in the classroom so that students have multiple options for taking in information, making sense of ideas, and expressing what they learn. In other words, a differentiated classroom provides different avenues to acquiring content, to processing or making sense of ideas, and to developing products so that each student can learn effectively.” Simply put, “Differentiated instruction (DI) is a way of looking at instruction that is centered on the belief that students learn in many different ways” (Smith, 2009). I created my infographic with this definition in mind. I found an article (Tucker, n.d.) that gave four elements (content, projects, process, and learning environments) for differentiated instruction. For the past two years, I have had to write student learning objectives. With every one, I struggle with how to differentiate to meet the needs of my students. I found some “words of wisdom” in an article I read by Hurst (2013). She wrote, “Rather than being overwhelmed by the fact that the ability to differentiate instruction is an ongoing pursuit, challenge yourself to choose one area for improvement to focus on in the coming school year.” I feel that if I remember to focus on one specific area, I will (hopefully) become proficient in differentiating in that area and will be able to add a new focus area each year.



Hurst, S. (2013, August 08). Six Necessary Components of Effective Differentiated Instruction. Retrieved January 19, 2016, from Reading Horizons: http://www.readinghorizons.com/blog/six-necessary-components-of-effective-differentiated-instruction

Smith, G. E., & Throne, S. (2009). Differentiating Instruction with Technology in Middle School Classrooms. Eugene, Or: International Society for Technology in Education [ISTE].

Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms. Alexandria: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development (ASCD).

Tucker, G. C. (n.d.). Differentiated Instruction: What You Need to Know. Retrieved from Understood for Learning and Attention Issues: https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/treatments-approaches/educational-strategies/differentiated-instruction-what-you-need-to-know


4 thoughts on “What is differentiated instruction?

  1. I like your comment on being overwhelmed by differentiated instruction and how you can just choose one area for the coming year. So true. Teachers get so much “input” for ideas, methods, strategies, etc. to improve teaching and learning that it’s almost impossible to try out every one that year. I’m a “seasoned” teacher, so I have heard a lot of “stuff” over the years, and to be honest, I haven’t incorporated even 20% of them. I think it’s because during professional development, we are given so much, that there isn’t time to digest, ponder, utilize, and reflect on the whole process. It’s heavily front-loaded, and there is not enough time for feedback. I like that choose one option.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The idea of “shaking up” a classroom is refreshing in a sense that this is what I desire for my classroom everyday. With this said, it can be difficult to take DI head on and I look forward to discovering resources using technology. I appreciate the comment you have that teachers should focus on one area to differentiate our instruction and master it over a year. This helps our teaching to manageable and enjoyable.

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  3. Cherie,
    I also liked your tip on focusing on one area of improvement to become proficient with. I feel sometimes that I spread myself too thin. If I am able to focus on one thing that I can usually master it. Trying to master too many things in today’s busy world can be an impossible task for anyone. Thanks for mentioning it.


    Liked by 1 person

  4. I work with faculty as an instructional designer currently and spend a great deal of my time assisting them with learning objectives. As such, I’m curious about your comment regarding the differentiation of objectives. When you write objectives are you trying to write one objective that encompasses all levels of learning taking place or are you trying to write multiple objectives to demonstrate this fact. If it’s the former, I saw a worked with a teacher who would do “learning maps” for her unit objectives to show the levels of learning that students could accomplish. She write the standardized objectives across the top and then had six boxes representing Bloom’s verbs to demonstrate the level of understanding. Each level then had 2-4 activities that were assigned a certain point value. If students chose to do the more difficult activity, they would receive more points, if students chose the lower level activities, they had to do more of them to earn the same number of points. While I would probably tweak the system a bit, the concept is a good one to keep you from having to write an objective that demonstrates all levels of learning or an objective for every level.


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