What is Differentiated Instruction

Karen Rojem, Dec 17, 2013
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Responding to my post from yesterday, Michael Caulfield tweets "As @downes notes, differentiated engagement is not 'new', but this post of @mfeldstein67's is still an important one." It may be, but I want to be clear here that I am not talking about differentiated engagement when I talk about personal learning. Differentiated engagement consists of "effective teaching practices that are responsive to the ongoing learning preferences, interests and readiness of the individual learner." It's not about students making choices for themselves, it's about studying students and tailoring instruction specifically to them. What I propose is personal learning - defined by the student. Differentiated instruction is a form of personalized learning - defined by the instructor.

More: "Differentiated instruction implies a purposeful process for adapting the teaching and learning processes of the classroom to accommodate the needs of all learners" (Murray & Jorgenson, The Differentiated Math Classroom, 2007). Also often cited is is Tomlinson & McTighe (2006), Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design (full text in SlideShare). Tomlinson says, "Its  an approach to teaching that advocates active planning for student differences in classrooms." I especially enjoyed Cheryl Muscha's study of engagement through differentiation - "students hate change," she writes, observing how her second trial resulted in much better results than the pilot. Jennifer Gauthier (et.al.) provides good examples of differentiated lesson plans.

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