Foundations and Current Issues of Early Childhood Education/Chapter 3/3.1

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Differentiated Learning[edit]

There are many different ways of teaching students what they need to learn. However they can all be grouped into two categories. Teachers can take the average of the class, which could go above some of the students heads and it could also make it too easy for other students. The other way of teaching is to teach differentially, to the diverse needs of all the different students. Catering to the diverse needs of all the students in a class is called differentiation.

Differentiation is defined as adjusting the curriculum, teaching strategies, and environment to meet the diverse needs of all the students (Batts & Lewis, 2005). By doing this teachers can maximize the potential of each student in the classroom (Carolan & Guinn, 2007). Differentiation is a practice that is derived from certain values; the way people teach their students, develop their curriculum, establish rules, and talk about learning (Benjamin, 2006). Compared to teaching the class as a whole it could seem like a lot of extra work, but when the teachers and schools are looking for better performance, a little extra work is not that much.

The first step in teaching students in a differentiated manner is to teach the teachers how to teach differentially. Teachers need to understand the theory as well as the related practices and developmental skills. The instructors teaching the teachers how to teach differentially need to clearly explain how and why differentiation should be used. Since each school district is different the instructors need to be able to tell the teachers what the stand is of the district they teach in. Mostly though, instructors need to realize that everyone they are teaching are also at different levels just like the students. They need to teach through modeling, show how to develop understandings and practices related to the different learners needs and also be patient because not everyone is going to understand what is being taught right away (Hedrick, 2005).

D- Determine the standards to be taught

I- Identify the students needs with strong assessment tools before, during, and after the learning

F- Formulate plans that link the targeted standards with individual needs

F- Find effective strategies and activities to teach the information E- Engage students in activities that employ their interests and the ways they learn

R- Relate learning to the students’ worlds

E- Encourage risk taking with wise choices

N- Nurture the social and emotional aspects of the students

T- Target the learners’ needs with flexible grouping designs

I- Ignite each student’s desire to learn

A- Adjust assignments to match the learner’s abilities, knowledge levels, and interests

T- Tailor lessons with student-focused activities

E- Entice and ignite lifelong learners

(Chapman & King, 2005)

Carolyn Chapman and Rita King give eleven helpful tips to guide teachers towards differentiation. First they say, know the standards. The standard is the topic that the teacher is trying to get across, once he/she knows the topic he/she can customize the learning opportunities for the different learners. Secondly, they say to vary the instructional strategies and activities. By changing the activities it keeps the students interested in the topic, and able to create relevant personnel connections to each lesson. Third, they said to create a learning climate. This is a safe, inviting environment that makes the students feel special, and encourages them to take risks and celebrate success. The fourth step is to exhibit “withitness.” Withitness is the teacher’s attitude about what he/she is doing. Teachers who are “withit” are the ones who show that they care, make the students feel important, and are the teachers who the students will remember for the rest of their lives. Their fifth suggestion is to provide a wide variety of materials and resources. These are important to help each student at his/her different ability level, the materials are what provide the successful experiences for the learners. Sixth is to know the students. When teachers know their students they are better able to help them, and match the appropriate materials and strategies to each students needs. Seventh they say to assess before, during and after the learning. By doing assessments before the lesson teachers learn what the student already knows about the topic. If the students are not performing as well as they could be it is the educators’ job to revise the way they are teaching to that student. Post assessments are used to see if the student captured the understanding of the lesson and will be able to generalize the information learned, use the information outside of the classroom setting. The eighth step is to adjust the assignments. Because different students may be at different levels, the teacher needs to realize that for the learners interested in the topic the lessons may be boring because they already know the basic information. Then there are the students who are capable of understanding what is being taught, as well as the students who may not be quite as ready as the rest of the class to move on to the new lesson. Assignments need to be catered to the individual student’s needs. Ninth is to plan student-focused opportunities. Give the students choices of how they want to learn, different areas can be set up throughout the classroom to fit the diverse learning needs. Step number ten is to use flexible grouping designs. Students need to learn how to work individually as well as in group settings, by using TAPS (T= Total groups, A= Alone, P= Partners, and S= Small groups) the students get to try out the different grouping techniques. Finally, step eleven says know that change is gradual. Not everyone will catch on to the new teaching style at once, but when the teachers realize the potential it has for their students they will be more inclined to participate (2005).

Another article states that the best way to understand differentiation is to actually go and observe classrooms that use it, and that is exactly what Jennifer Carolan and Abigail Guinn did. They sat in on five classes that effectively used differentiation and noticed four characteristics that each of them had. Each one of the five classrooms offered personalized scaffolding, a technique that helps students create a bridge between what they can do and what they are trying to do. The classrooms used flexible means to reach defined ends, which are the clear learning goals the teacher had for the students, as well as the different paths the learner could use to reach those goals. The teachers had mining subject-area expertise, which knows the student as well as the subject area and knowing what they might already know and how they come to the conclusions they come to. And finally they created a caring classroom in which differences were seen as assets, instead of seeing differences in the students as obstacles the differences were turned into positive attributes (2007).

The reason most teachers do not use differentiated instruction is because they think they will have to teach each lesson three different ways. That is not differentiation, nor is it practical in any sense (Carolan & Guinn, 2007). However, once differentiated learning is implemented in the classroom teachers need to value what they are doing. Parents will have questions and it is the teachers’ responsibility to inform them that their child’s performance will not decline, but should improve (Benjamin, 2006). “While teachers do and should use whole-group instruction, teaching to the whole group without using and other instructional method will not address the needs of all the learners. And ‘Even though it takes a lot of time up front to plan for a differentiated classroom, the benefits have been proven.(Batts & Lewis, 2005)’”

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

1. What are the two main ways a class can be taught?

A. As a group and Differentiated

B. As a group and 3 different was

C. 3 different ways and Differentiated

D. None of the above

2. What is the main point of differentiation?

A. To teach the class as a whole

B. To teach the lesson 3 different ways

C. To teach the class to meet the diverse needs of all the students

D. All of the above

3. What are the first steps in teaching students differentially?

A. Knowing the standards

B. Teaching the teachers how to teach differentially

C. Observe classrooms that use differentiation

D. All of the above

E. A and C only

4. How many helpful tips did Carolyn Chapman and Rita King give?

A. 7

B. 9

C. 11

D. 13

5. True/False: A student’s performance will decline with differentiated teaching?

A. True

B. False

Essay Question[edit]

In 200-300 words explain what you think differentiation is, and if you would use in it your classroom.

Differentiation is a teaching style that focuses on the diverse needs of all the students in the class. It is a very welcoming type of teaching where students get to learn in ways that will benefit them the best. The learners are taught that experimenting for the right answer is not bad as long as they have reasons as to why they are doing something, and when they are correct their success is celebrated. In this kind of teaching the teachers need to get to know each and every student more so than if they were teaching the class as if everyone was on the same level. By getting to know the students it makes the teacher seem more personable and not only will the child feel more comfortable with him or her but the teacher will also be able to help the student have better academic success.

I would use differentiated teaching in my classroom. Teachers become teachers so they can help the future generations of children succeed in life, going into the job they know that not everyone is the same, nor do they come into school at the same level or learn at the same pace. I believe it is very important to teach to each child’s needs and I plan on doing whatever I can to help the children succeed, even if that does mean a little extra planning on my part.


Batts, K. & Lewis, S. (2005). How to implement differentiated instructor? Journal of Staff Development, 26 (4), 26-31.

Benjamin, A. (2006). Valuing differentiated instruction. The Education Digest, 72 (1), 57-59.

Carolan, J. & Guinn, A. (2007). Differentiation: lessons from master teachers. Educational Leadership, 64 (5), 44-47.

Chapman, C. & King, R. (2005). 11 practical ways to guide teachers toward differentiation (and an evaluation tool). Journal of Staff Development, 26 (4), 20-25.

Hedrick, K.A. (2005). Staff development for differentiation must be made to measure. Journal of Staff Development, 26 (4), 32-37.