Many questions arise on the best way to approach instruction within the classrooms. Each student is different and learns differently. Our one-size fits all approach in the classroom never completely worked and the gap is widening as the years progress. Today, students may grasp knowledge through multiple avenues and should be presented with many learning options. In addition, the student having the opportunity to present his or her knowledge is just as important.
Carol Ann Tomlinson, an educator for more than 21 years and author of over 200 written works, states it best when asked what differentiated instruction truly means. Tomlinson says differentiated instruction is “a teacher really trying to address students’ particular readiness needs, their particular interests, and their preferred ways of learning. Differentiated instruction means addressing ways in which students vary as learners.” Until this point, I understood the instructional aspect of the term to represent the activities that occur within a classroom. However, it was only recently did I learn that differentiated instruction meant so much more. It included the lesson planning and and assessments of a classroom instruction as well. The complete cycle of learning is considered differentiated instruction.
Differentiation starts prior to the actual classroom instruction. Differentiation begins with a solid classroom practice—meaning everything we value is consistently represented within our rooms. According to Tomlinson, a well ran differentiated classroom has several key characteristics to include student-teacher connections, a well-rounded community, and strong, quality curriculum. For differentiation to work well within the classroom, all aspects are important and required.
Once the actual lesson begins, differentiation can vary. Instruction on the material taught to each student, the process of teaching that material, and the way students demonstrate their understanding of the material is considered pieces of differentiation learning. Each piece is important to the students’ learning process. Planning the approach is a significant part of lesson planning as well. Differentiation lessons do not just fall into place. Careful consideration of the students within the class can be truly beneficial in constructing appropriate instruction.
In addition, it is important to recognize the classroom is filled with diverse learners ready to soak up the information presented. A few students may have language barriers, some may have learning disabilities or may need additional assistance with one or more subjects, and some students may need to be further scholastically challenged. Regardless of the type of learner, it is important that the students and teacher embrace all learners and learning methods.