Sunday, November 11, 2012

Differentiating Instruction: Is It Necessary?

Differentiated instruction is not only important for the quality of education of the students, but it is also necessary. There are various reasons that instruction must be differentiated. The most obvious is differentiated instruction reaches more of the students in the classroom. In order to reach each student in the classroom, teachers must understand that no two children are alike, students differ in readiness, interest, and learning profiles, and no one learns in the same way. If teachers enter the classroom with these understandings, then they will be more effective, and productive educators.

Most traditional classrooms use the lecture format to teach students. This is an ineffective way to teach the students, because no two children are alike. In today’s classrooms, students come from different cultural, socioeconomic, and racial backgrounds. A more effective way to reach the students is to be empathetic to the various backgrounds in the classroom. For example, when teachers address the cultural backgrounds of the students, they should get to know as much as possible about the culture of the students they are trying to reach. “Tacos on Tuesday is not cultural literacy” (Tileston 70). Therefore, teachers should ask the students to relate the materials to someone they know. Teachers should eliminate cultural bias in the classroom.  One way this can be done is to have the student tell us about their culture and have the other students compare and contrast the different cultures with one another. Teachers should also recognize the cultural attitudes toward education, and gender. If teachers are successful in understanding the cultural backgrounds of their students, their students will be more apt to thrive in the classroom. Students who do not seem to thrive in the classroom are those that live on or around the poverty line. To reach these students, it is important for teachers try to build relationships with the students. Because lower-income students are constantly in survival mode, it is important that teachers eliminate any “threat” in the classroom. “If we are under threat, whether physical, emotional or otherwise, our brain pays attention to the threat over all other incoming stimuli” (Tileston 5). Educators should also be highly qualified teachers, who teach acceptable social skills, problem solving skills, and behavioral control methods, as well as the curriculum. Teachers can also get involved with community leaders in order to provide resources for the students. Some much needed resources for low-income students are tutoring, positive role models, health care, and food. If the students feel less threatened, and their teachers care; they too can thrive in the classroom. Another way a teacher can make sure her students thrive is to have a fully integrated classroom, by eliminating racial segregation. The teacher must be sure not to stereotype students because of their race. In other words, do not assume that one certain race will excel in academics and another race will fail in academics. One way to integrate the classroom is the elimination of linguistic bias. Having a rule fully explained at the beginning of the year and visibly posted in the classroom about degrading language will help eliminate linguistic bias. If material with degrading language is to be used in the classroom, teachers should explain to the students the context of the material. For instance, if the class is required to read Tom Sawyer; the teacher should give the students the historical background to the era it was written, give the purpose of the story, and make sure the students understand the views in the book are not their own. teachers must have each of her students understand that they are not to make fun of any other person addressed in the classrooms’ name. if the teacher has effectively eliminated racial segregation, each student should benefit and thrive in the classroom.

Most traditional classrooms assume that each student is on the same level, have the same interests, and have the same learning profiles. “An enriched environment for one student is not necessarily enriched for another” (Diamond). This holds true whether dealing with students’ readiness, interests, and learning styles.  For instance, one student may be ready for the material, yet another student is not close to being ready for the material, and yet another student may be beyond the material. Today’s classrooms have a wide range of students on varying levels of readiness. All integrated classrooms included gifted students, students with learning disabilities, and all of the students that fall in between the two at many different levels. Gifted students may need additional challenges that must be met. If teachers do not meet the needs of these students, they may lose them all together. Students with learning disabilities may have to have modifications and adaptive equipment to help them learn. The students that are in-between the gifted and those with learning disabilities may or may not need additional challenges or modifications. Having all of the modifications in place for students will help a teacher makes sure each of her students are ready for the challenges that lie ahead. One challenge that teachers face is not all students have the same interests. This is normally due to the students multiple intelligences, which are their learning preferences. This improves the quality of the student’s learning as well as the speed and ease of their learning. Teachers must recognize that all students may have more than one learning preference and differentiated instruction can usually give them instruction that helps the students thrive. Some students have visual intelligences. these students are normally artistic; therefore, they prefer to learn by using pictures, images, and spatial understanding. Other students have aural intelligence. These students tend to do better in music, and use sound and music to learn. Some students may have verbal intelligence; they tend to do better in language arts. They normally excel when using words, speech, or written language. Other students have physical intelligences. Normally, these students do better in sports, and must use their body and sense of touch to learn. Some students have  more logical intelligences.  These students are more analytical. They thrive and excel in math and science courses. This is due to the student’s ability to understand logic, reason, and systems. Other students have social intelligence and understand how people work. These students are usually popular, do better in groups or when working with other people. Finally, some students have solitary intelligences. These students cannot easily relate to others and tend to be loners. They enjoy working alone and doing self-study. These multiple intelligences can be easily addressed, if the educator has implemented differentiated instruction.

Next, teachers must identify the different learning styles of her students. These are closely related to multiple intelligences however they are not the same. Students who are visual learners have an ability to learn what they see before them. They use the teacher’s body language to clue them into the context of the material. These students have a need to sit in the front of the class because they are easily distracted by other visuals in the classroom. These students tend to thin in pictures and like using pictures, diagrams, graphic organizers, videos, charts, handouts, etc. Another learning style that teachers should be aware of is the auditory learning style. These children remember what they hear. They thrive in lecture / discussion classrooms. Auditory learners enjoy reading aloud, books on tape, and talking/listening segments of classroom instruction. The students that are neither visual learners nor auditory learners are kinesthetic learners. These students learn from engaging their bodies. They enjoy instruction that is hands-on, deals with touch, and deals with active exploration. These students like the teacher to  provide tangible models, explain how the material feels, and have them work the problem out.

Now that we understand the different intelligences and learning styles, we are aware that no one student learns in the same way. It is important for students to be taught how to think about ideas and how to make judgments on their own. If teachers implement effective differential instruction methods, then the students will continually grow in the classroom. Academic diversity must be met with various learning strategies. Discussed next are a handful of many methods that would be effective in addressing the needs of various learners. Teachers can have the students brainstorm. This triggers creative thinking. The teacher can choose to have the students either work individually or in buzz groups while brainstorming. Any topics can be used in brainstorming, and all ideas and questions posed while brainstorming are important. If the teacher uses buzz groups, the group members can pick out characteristics about the topic and compare/contrast individual thoughts about the topic. Next, teachers can involve their students in discovery/info search. This is when the students are asked to answer specific questions about the questions. When using this strategy, teachers must make sure to give the students the tools, to answer the questions. These tools may include, but are not limited to books, internet, and charts. Another strategy that teachers can use in the modern classroom, is peer teaching. This is extremely effective and can be used in more than one way. A teacher can have a gifted student sit next to a student with learning disabilities and have the students assist one another. Both students benefit from such a teaching method. The gifted student gains a better understanding of the material and learns how it can be applied, and the student with learning disabilities benefits from the assistance of a tutor. Another way a teacher can use peer teaching is to take the material being studied and split it into sections. She then may assign each student or group a section to analyze, interpret, and understand. Then each student can be asked to teach the material to the rest of the class. This strategy makes the students accountable for their understanding, gets them involved in their education, and teaches the students responsibility.

Many other strategies such as current events, storytelling, video/picture analysis, case studies, concept models, etc. can be used to reach each student in the classroom. An effective teacher is one who reaches each student in the classroom through differentiated instruction. Differentiated instruction must address the different learning styles, intelligences, and readiness of each student. This instruction must reach across cultural, socioeconomic, and racial backgrounds. Differentiated instruction is  necessary to provide an enriched environment that fosters ongoing growth of each student and meets academic diversity in today’s classrooms.


Diamond, Miran. “Differentiating Instruction.” Enhance Learning With Technology. 8 October 2007. <>. 2004.

“Discover Your Learning Styles – Graphically.” 28 January 2007.

Advanogy. <>. 2007.

“Learning Styles Explained.” 8 October 2007. <>.

Tileston, Donna Walker. 10 Best Teaching Practices: How Brain Research, Learning Styles, and Standards Define Teaching. 2nd ed. 2005. Corwin Press: Thousand Oaks, California.

Tomlison, Carol Ann. “Differentiating Instruction for Advanced Learners in the Mixed-Ability Middle School Classroom.” ERIC EC Digest. v.E536. 8 October 2007. <>.

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