| “Differentiation” by Rick Wormeli explains what differentiated instruction is, how to incorporate it into your classroom, and what it looks like once implemented. Differentiated instruction is a pedagogical method in which students are allowed to choose how they will engage with the subject/topic/material you are teaching. It’s based on the multiple intelligence theory that we have certain ways we learn and when we are taught in a way that speaks to our learning intelligence, we will learn better and retain more.
A great way to think of differentiated instruction is to think of time you’ve explained something to a group of people (doesn’t matter how big the group is). Now, think about the people who had questions or needed clarification? Did you give them hands on instruction? Illustrations? Had them work with a partner? All of these are differentiated instruction. We do it outside of classroom settings all the time when we tailor how we explain something to someone’s needs. Inside the classroom it takes a lot more work because you’re working with more people and thus, more learning intelligences.
I’ve been wanting to incorporate more differentiated instruction into my classes but have struggled to find how to structure the material in order to maintain academic rigor while providing choices. One thing that I’ve been doing is exactly what Wormeli recommends: start with the standards you’re supposed to be covering, decide what you want the students to know, and formulate how you’re going to formatively and summatively assess them. Then work from that framework and decide where are areas that students can access the information in ways that speak to their learning style?
Since I work with high school students, many of them know how they learn or at least how they like to learn. Others are willing to ignore their learning intelligence in order to completely something the “easy” way and frankly, as long as they are the one’s choosing to do that, it’s on them. At some point we all have to take responsibility for our choices and it might as well start in the classroom. Back to differentiate instruction. Sometimes what I will do is state and write the objective on the board, then brainstorm with the class ways in which they can complete the objective. This gives us a menu for students to choose from. If they get stuck, sometimes I’ll give a few ideas. Other times, I may be the one giving the students the options to choose from.
One problem that I have is that teaching high school English there’s not a lot of control I have over the curricular content. When I’m teaching American literature, there’s a lot that’s already decided for us based on the anthology and the fact that it has to be American. What I’ve done to give students access, is to give them choices into which selection(s) they want to read out of choices I give them. Then they can choose what discussion questions/topics they want to have.
I’m still learning and Wormeli’s book is a good introduction and sample of what differentiated instruction looks like. I’m very pleased with the index of resources he includes in the back of the book. Many of them look like they go more in-depth and provide even more examples to learn from.