Differentiated Instruction

What is Differentiated Instruction?

differentiated instruction.jpg Differentiated instruction is a teaching theory based on the premise that instructional approaches should vary and be adapted in relation to individual and diverse students in classrooms (Tomlinson, 2001). The model of differentiated instruction requires teachers to be flexible in their approach to teaching and adjust the curriculum and presentation of information to learners rather than expecting students to modify themselves for the curriculum. Many teachers and teacher educators have recently identified differentiated instruction as a method of helping more students in diverse classroom settings experience success.


To differentiate instruction is to recognize students' varying background knowledge, readiness, language, preferences in learning and interests; and to react responsively. Differentiated instruction is a process to teaching and learning for students of differing abilities in the same class. The intent of differentiating instruction is to maximize each student's growth and individual success by meeting each student where he or she is and assisting in the learning process.

(Taken from:   http://aim.cast.org/learn/historyarchive/backgroundpapers/differentiated_instruction_udl )

Identifying Components of Differentiated Instruction

tomlinson2000_fig1_1.gif Tomlinson (2001) identifies three elements of the curriculum that can be differentiated: Content, Process, and Products








Additional Guidelines That Make Differentiation Possible for Teachers to Attain

(To read more details about the above components go to:   http://aim.cast.org/learn/historyarchive/backgroundpapers/differentiated_instruction_udl )


Examples to illustrate how to incorporate differentiated instruction include:

Life Cycle of Plants:   http://www.cast.org/teachingeverystudent/toolkits/tk_modellesson.cfm?tk_id=21&tkl_id=141

 "Planning for all learners" toolkit:



Links to Learn More About Differentiated Instruction

Guild, P. B., and Garger, S. (1998). What Is Differentiated Instruction? Marching to Different Drummers, 2nd Ed. (ASCD, p.2)

Initially published in 1985, Marching to Different Drummers was one of the first sources to pull together information on what was a newly-flourishing topic in education. Part I defines style and looks at the history of style research; Part II describes applications of style in seven areas; Part III identifies common questions and discusses implementation and staff development.

The Access Center

This web site belongs to the Access Center, a national technical assistance center, funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs. The purpose of the K12 Access Center is to make elementary and middle school curricula more accessible to students with disabilities. The web site hosts chats and discussions and offers publications and presentations on topics related to accessing the general education curriculum, including Universal Design for Learning.

Tomlinson, C. A., (1995). Differentiating instruction for advanced learners in the mixed-ability middle school classroom. ERIC Digest ED443572.


 To meet the needs of diverse student populations, many teachers differentiate instruction. This digest describes differentiated instruction, discusses the reasons for differentiated instruction, what makes it successful, and suggests how teachers may begin implementation.

Tomlinson, C. A., (1995). Differentiating instruction for advanced learners in the mixed-ability middle school classroom. ERIC Digest E536.

The ability to differentiate instruction for middle school aged learners is a challenge. Responding to the diverse students needs found in inclusive, mixed-ability classrooms is particularly difficult. This digest provides an overview of some key principles for differentiating instruction, with an emphasis on the learning needs of academically advanced students.

Tomlinson, C. A., & Allan, S. D., (2000). Leadership for differentiating schools and classrooms. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

This web site contains two chapters from Tomlinson's recent publication: Leadership for differentiating schools and classrooms, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. This book is designed for those in leadership positions to learn about differentiated instruction.

Web Article: Mapping a route toward differentiated instruction.

Carol Ann Tomlinson, an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership, Foundations and Policy at the Curry School of Education, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA provides an article entitled: Mapping a route toward differentiated instruction. Educational Leadership, 57(1).

Willis, S. & Mann, L., (2000). Differentiating instruction: Finding manageable ways to meet individual needs (Excerpt). Curriculum Update.

Based on the concept that "one size does not fit all" the authors describe the teaching philosophy of differentiated instruction. More teachers are determined to reach all learners, to challenge students who may be identified as gifted as well as students who lag behind grade level. This article excerpt describes the essential components of differentiated instruction beginning with three aspects of curriculum: content, process, and products.

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) Web Site

A site by ASCD (2000) which discusses differentiated instruction. Page links to other pages with examples from a high school and elementary school, key characteristics of a differentiated classroom, benefits, related readings, discussion, and related links to explore.

Preparing Teachers for Differentiated Instruction

This web site, provided by Educational Leadership, links the reader to a brief summary of an article by Holloway. The author has provided a bulleted summary regarding the principles and theories that drive differentiated instruction.

Holloway, J. H., (2000). Preparing Teachers for Differentiated Instruction. Educational Leadership, 58(1).

This site is from an education course by Dr. John Durkin. It includes a diagram with suggestions for approaches to differentiated instruction. It also includes a listing of what differentiated instruction is and is not, rules of thumb on how to instruct, and management strategies.

Web Site: for Teachers, Administrators, and Higher Education

This web site is designed for educators and uses technology to inform teachers about current practices, literature, the law in education, as well as professional development. Additionally, links to articles including research on educational practices including links to information on differentiated instruction are included. CAST. Teaching Every Student.(n.d). Retrieved September 15, 2003, from http://www.cast.org/teachingeverystudent/