Definition of Differentiated Instruction

Caroline Tomlinson, a leading professor of educational leadership, described differentiated instruction as factoring students’ learning methods and levels of readiness before formulating a lesson plan.

Research has shown that this has affected and benefited a wide variety of students. It caters specifically to those with learning disabilities and the ones who are highly capable.

Teachers who follow this method of instruction often practice it in the following way:

  • Design lessons based on the individual’s learning styles
  • Group students based on shared interest and aptitude for an assignment
  • Assess learners using formative assessment
  • Make the classroom a safe and encouraging space
  • Frequently assess, adjust and update lesson plans that meet the students’ needs.

History of Differentiated Instruction

The genesis of differentiated instructions can be dated back to the time of the one-room schoolhouse. In such schools, the staff is composed of only one teacher.

The teacher had to teach students of all ages in one classroom. As the education system slowly transitioned into grading school, a curriculum was set in place. This curriculum saw that children of similar ages learned the same syllabus.

However, in 1912, achievement tests were established. The scores of this test revealed the gaps in the students’ abilities. It showed the teachers where and how they needed to progress to cover those gaps.

In 1975, Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This act ensured that children with disabilities had equal access to public education. 

To reach out to this desired and targeted student population, many educators used differentiated instruction strategies. The No Child Left Behind in 2000 supported and encouraged differentiated and skill-specific instruction.

Research shows that differentiating instruction within the classroom is more effective than a lecture. The lecture is the least effective as an instructional method. The information tends to retain at a rate of 5 to 10% in the learner’s mind.

Whereas, in differentiated learning, discussing and exposure to the material even after teaching has been proved to be a more effective method to ensure maximum retention.


  1. Using reading materials at different readability levels
  2. Putting the text materials in an audio file
  3. Using spelling and vocabulary lists that test the readiness level of the students.
  4. Showcasing ideas through both auditory and visual mediums.
  5. Group Studies
  6. Pairing small groups of students to re-teach a skill for struggling learners. It will also improve the thinking skills of advanced learners.

Examples of Differentiated Learning

  1. Using tiered activities allows learners of all levels to have the same understanding and skills even if they have different levels of support and challenges.
  • Creating interest encouraging them to explore the class topic beyond the information provided to them, taking interest in them.
  • Developing personal agendas like to-do lists given by the teacher that addresses the individual needs of the learners. This list of tasks is to be completed during a set period.
  • Offering hands-on support to the students who require them.
  • Providing additional support for students who need it.
  • The classroom must be quiet without any distractions.
  • The materials reflect the cultural variety and home settings.
  • Clear guidelines for independent work that satisfies the individual’s needs
  • Making routines that allow students to navigate the curriculum on their own in the absence of the teacher.
  1. Helping learners understand that some learners learn better while moving around and others do so while sitting.

judi thnoland

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