Focus On! (April)

Researchers at the National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum define differentiated instruction as

“A process to approach teaching and learning for students of differing abilities in the same class. The intent is to maximize each student’s growth and individual success by meeting each student where he or she is… rather than expecting students to modify themselves for the curriculum.” (Hall, 2002)

Solid research validates a number of practices that provide the foundation of differentiation. These practices include using effective classroom management procedures (see CE Credits Online “Creating a Culture for Learning”); promoting student engagement and motivation (see CE Credits Online “Maximizing Engagement for All Learners”); assessing student readiness (see CE Credits Online “Differentiating Instruction in Your Classroom”); responding to learning styles; and grouping students for instruction (see CE Credits Online “Differentiating Instruction in the Classroom”).

Lawrence-Brown (2004) confirmed that differentiated instruction can enable students with a wide range of abilities—from gifted students to those with mild or even severe disabilities—to receive an appropriate education in inclusive classrooms. Building on Vaughn, Bos, and Schumm’s (2000) basic, three-level planning pyramid and Tomlinson and Kalbfleisch’s (1998) work on differentiated classrooms, Lawrence-Brown explains how a teacher might address some students’ individualized education plan goals by adapting the classroom curriculum to include manipulatives, visual aids, charts, audiotapes, and explicit expectations, while also offering an enriched curriculum to gifted students.

Baumgartner, Lipowski , and Rush (2003) studied a program to improve reading achievement among elementary and middle school students using differentiated instructional strategies, including flexible grouping, student choice of learning tasks, self-selected reading time, and access to a variety of texts. In all three of the classrooms in the study, the targeted students improved their decoding, phonemic, and comprehension skills. Student attitudes about reading and their own abilities also improved. (See CE Credits Online “Coaching to Improve Reading”)

According to Tomlinson and Strickland (2005), teachers usually differentiate instruction by adjusting one or more of the following: the content (what students learn); the process (how students learn); or the product (how students demonstrate their mastery of the knowledge or skills). However, there is no one-size-fits-all model for differentiated instruction; it looks different depending on the prior knowledge, interests, and abilities students bring to a learning situation.

CE Credits Online “Differentiating Instruction in Your Classroom “introduces you to instructional strategies and methodologies that will enable you to create powerful learning experiences to meet the wide range of different student needs in your classrooms.

For course description and reviews, click here.


Allan, S. D., & Tomlinson, C. A. (2000). Leadership for differentiating schools and classrooms. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Anderson, K. M., (2007). Differentiating instruction to include all students. Preventing School Failure, 51(3), 49–54.

Baumgartner, T., Lipowski, M. B., & Rush, C. (2003). Increasing reading achievement of primary and middle school students through differentiated instruction (Master’s research). Available from Education Resources Information Center (ERIC No. ED479203).

Ellis, E. S., & Worthington, L. A. (1994). Research synthesis on effective teaching principles and the design of quality tools for educators (Technical Report No. 5). Eugene: University of Oregon, National Center to Improve the Tools of Educators.

Hall, T. (2002). Differentiated instruction [Online]. Wakefield, MA: CAST.

Lawrence-Brown, D. (2004). Differentiated instruction: Inclusive strategies for standards-based learning that benefit the whole class. American Secondary Education 32(3), 34

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