Current Issues

Differentiating Content and Resources

Differentiating instruction is complex and multi-layered. While we need to keep in mind that all the steps we might take to make learning meaningful and accessible for all students are intertwined rather than isolated, it is helpful to think about some of the “pieces” that can make up differentiated instruction one at a time in order to understand how they might fit into the bigger “whole”. So, this post and two to follow will focus on these pieces, and then in a final post we will look at putting it all back together.

Differentiating Content

The key to differentiating content could be described as “a hard target with soft angles of approach”.

Effective differentiation requires clear statements of the core concepts and skills that all students will learn. Learning goals need to be developed in student-friendly, age-appropriate language that focus on these core concepts and skills.

For many important goals, there are a number of contexts that may be suitable for students to learn them within. The context provides the facts and details that support the fundamental concepts or skills. For example, co-ordination skills can be acquired through learning and practicing a great variety of sports. So, a teacher trying to develop co-ordination skills would choose a sport within which to teach these skills that appeals to the students. Or perhaps two different sports, to engage a wider variety of students. A history teacher may be trying to teach students the difference between primary and secondary sources. There is almost an unlimited number of contexts in which this could be taught, so the teacher would choose one that is relevant to the culture and background of students. Or perhaps even give students some choice about which historical event they wish to explore through these two types of sources.

Another way in which these core concepts and skills can be approached from “soft angles” is by allowing for variety in the complexity and sophistication with which students attain them. This requires having some open-ended tasks that offer a variety of “entry points” (recognizing that some students are ready to jump ahead, while others need time to get the basics) and invite students to “go as far as you can” with applying the core concepts and skills.

Differentiating Resources

Using different resources allows for a variety of ways for students to access information. Resources that are designed to develop the same core concepts and skills could be differentiated by:

  • Level of complexity. For example, reading level, or degree of prior knowledge required.
  • Mode of accessing information. Some students prefer visual material, while others learn best by hearing the information. And still others benefit most from demonstration or manipulatives.

When a variety of resources are being used, the teacher can allocate them to certain students or groups of students (for example, reading groups formed by reading ability), or allow students to choose. Allowing some choice helps students develop an awareness of their own learning needs and preferences, and a sense of ownership of their own learning.

What ways have you provided your students with some variety and choice in these areas, while moving all students in the direction of the same core concepts and skills? Share your experience in the comments below…

Current Issues
Learning Styles, Literature and Reading the Bible
Current Issues
Assessment: What are your Assumptions?
Current Issues
How can Expected Student Outcomes contribute to School Improvement?
There are currently no comments.