Monday, November 1, 2010

Differentiated Instruction: Adjusting to the needs of all learners

Corley, Mary Ann. (2005), Differentiated Instruction. Adjusting to the Needs of All Learners. NCSALL Volume 7, Issue C.

In this article, Mary Ann Corley attempts to define differentiated instruction by drawing on the words of some of the leaders in the field such as Carol Ann Tomlinson. She provides a very succinct introduction to differentiation, explaining the three key characteristics of readiness level, interest and learning profile, giving the reader a nice overview of what makes good differentiation. She also goes over Content, Process and Product, three components of differentiated instruction that are mentioned quite often. Content refers to what the students need to know, process refers to how it is taught, and product refers to the many different ways students can express their knowledge. She's basically providing a nice quick "how to" in regards to differentiation that teachers can read easily to determine whether this is the right thing for them.

The most valuable part of the article though is simply a list. It includes a dozen different techniques teachers can use to incorporate differentiation in their classes. It's not a bad thing to laminate and put up on the wall in your office. Tips like setting up stations, assigning tiered activities, using choice boards and allowing for flexible pacing all represent great strategies that any teacher can employ.

Corley wraps up the article by providing the reader with the challenges involved in using differentiation, citing three major issues. It takes a lot of planning to incorporate DI, which takes a lot more time. Classroom management also changes dramatically as the teacher takes on a new role. Plus, it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks, meaning teachers have a difficult time moving away from where they're already comfortable.

Some striking quotes:

"Instead of expecting learners to adjust to the lessons they plan, teachers need to plan their lessons to adjust to the learners at hand"

"(need to) change the role of the teacher from dispenser of knowledge to facilitator of learning"

"The only way to address all these concerns is through effective professional development that strongly encourages teachers to apply the skills and then provides coaching throughout the process of moving toward differentiation as a teaching approach."


Campbell, L., & Campbell, B. (1999). Multiple Intelligences and Student Achievement: Success Stories from Six Schools. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

Tomlinson, C. (1995). “Deciding to differentiate instruction in middle school: One school’s journey.” Gifted ChildQuarterly, 3 9, 77-87.

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