What is Differentiated Instruction? Examples of How to Differentiate Instruction in the Classroom



Teaching Strategies                       

Just as everyone has a unique fingerprint, each student has an individual style of learning. Not all students in a classroom learn a subject in the same way or share the same level of ability. Differentiated instruction is a method of designing and delivering instruction to best reach each student.
Differentiated Instruction
Carol Ann Tomlinson is a leader in the area of differentiated learning and professor of educational leadership, foundations and policy at the University of Virginia. Tomlinson describes differentiated instruction as factoring students’ individual learning styles and levels of readiness first before designing a lesson plan. Research on the effectiveness of differentiation shows this method benefits a wide range of students, from those with learning disabilities to those who are considered high ability.

Differentiated instruction is a method of designing and delivering instruction to best reach each student.

Differentiating instruction may mean teaching the same material to all students using a variety of instructional strategies, or it may require the teacher to deliver lessons at varying levels of difficulty based on the ability of each student. Formative assessment is an essential ingredient of this method.


Teachers who practice differentiation in the classroom may:

      – Design lessons based on students’ learning styles.

      – Group students by shared interest, topic or ability for assignments.

      – Assess students’ learning using formative assessment.

      – Manage the classroom to create a safe and supportive environment.

       – Continually assess and adjust lesson content to meet students’ needs.


History of differentiated instruction


The roots of differentiated instruction go all the way back to the days of the one-room schoolhouse, where one teacher had students of all ages in one classroom. As the educational system transitioned to grading schools, it was assumed that children of the same age learned similarly. However in 1912, achievement tests were introduced, and the scores revealed the gaps in student’s abilities within grade levels.


In 1975, Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), ensuring that children with disabilities had equal access to public education. Educators used differentiated instruction strategies to reach this student population. The passage of No Child Left Behind in 2000 further encouraged differentiated and skill-based instruction.


Click here to read more from Concordia on differentiation.