California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II
Differentiated instruction involves tailoring lessons or instructional strategies to meet the individual needs of students and the state and federal requirements for universal access (refer to pages 229-239 in the Mathematics Framework for California Public Schools—Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve [PDF; 3.19MB; 411pp.] for more on universal access). Differentiated strategies assume that one size cannot fit all and that teaching to the middle student fails to challenge advanced learners or support those who struggle. Effective teachers quickly learn their students’ learning needs and styles through a review of cumulative folders, assessment results from previous years and the first weeks of a new year, as well as through articulation meetings with feeder schools. For more on articulation, refer to Recommendation 6—Transitions.
The Reading/Language Arts Framework for California Public Schools Kindergarten through Grade Twelve (2007) (PDF; 6.06MB; 386pp.), like other curriculum frameworks, emphasizes the importance of differentiating instruction so that all students can achieve. “Although all learners work toward mastery of the same standards, curriculum and instruction are differentiated to meet students’ needs.”1 Other frameworks also provide information on meeting instructional needs through differentiated strategies:
Rancho Milpitas Middle School,
Milpitas Unified School District, a 2008 redesignated School to Watch™-Taking Center Stage Model School
The school’s professional learning community members differentiate lessons in every classroom. One strategy for differentiation includes innovative cross-curricular lessons that include projects, field trips, and service projects.
In Classroom Instruction That Works, Marzano joins other educational experts in calling for teachers to provide avenues of support for students to succeed. He lists nine possible strategies that will give students those avenues of support to learn standards-based content:
Through daily informal progress monitoring, as well as periodic formal monitoring, teachers can give students multiple opportunities to redo and refine original assignments until they demonstrate proficiency or excellence.
Dr. Debbie Silver is a renowned expert on differentiated instruction. In making the connection between differentiation and assessment, she quotes researchers (Newmann, Marks, & Gamoran, 1995, p. 3) assessment
strategies are moving beyond superficial levels of comprehension and towards deeper
understandings such as:
Medea Creek Middle School, Oak Park Unified School District, a 2004 Schools to Watch™-Taking Center Stage Model School
Medea Creek made differentiation of instruction a major focus for the whole school. As a result, every teacher is prepared to create opportunities for differentiated instruction.
The theory of different learning styles provides some helpful information on identifying ways that teachers can differentiate instruction. For example, staff or team meetings can focus on some of the following models and analyze how they would help specific students:
These ideas and other cognitive inventories expose teachers to the possible ways that students learn. Teachers can consider options to try with students who don’t get it after initial lessons. Even though these cognitive models are theories, there is a universal understanding that students learn in different ways and that differentiated instruction is valid. For example, teachers might find VAK theories useful in their own teaching, such as realizing when they are in a visual location (by the board), an auditory location (at the head of the class), and a kinesthetic location (within touching distance of a particular student) and consider which location to use for different purposes.
The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. featured differentiated instruction in two of its newsletters:
1Reading/Language Arts Framework for California Public Schools Kindergarten through Grade Twelve (PDF; 6.06MB; 386pp.). Sacramento: California Department of Education, 2007, 9.
2Robert Marzano, Debra Pickerling, and Jane Pollock, Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2001.
3Dr. Debbie Silver, Thinking “Outside the Lines", (PDF; Outside Source) Written for PBS TAPPED IN Series, 5.
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California Department of Education
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Sacramento, CA 95814