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differentiated instruction

working with ELL's
assessment Schedule: 2008
scoring methods
differentiated instruction
writing to speculate
writing to persuade
matrix of content clusters and skills
open-ened scoring rubric
clearinghouse reading research
"hot" reading strategies
adolescent literacy: research and practice
research-based instruction
leave no child behind
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"hot" graphic organizers
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n.j. core curriculum content standards
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 Instructional Strategies

Differentiated Instruction

Pyramid Teaching / Layered Learning / Flexible Grouping

Remember the one-room schoolhouse of the past? (Neither do I, but we've all heard or read about it.)  This was the little school-on-the-prairie where one teacher addressed the educational needs of students from all grade levels (K-8; sometimes K-12).  Well, in a way, we've come full circle.  Although we do not usually have so many grade levels in one classroom, we can almost be assured that we will have all manner of ability levels in one classroom.  It is not uncommon for one teacher to have within the confines of one room several different reading groups and math groups, as well as students who just need instruction to be presented in a variety of ways (multi-modal, multi-sensory, Gardner's 8 Intelligences).  There is currently a push to use what is called "Differentiated Instruction" to address the needs of diverse learners in the classroom.  A differentiated curriculum is merely a curriculum adapted to meet the needs of all students.

   Great.  We know we need to accommodate diverse learners in the same classroom.  Just how do we go about it?  One way to think about this is to think:

1.   "Pyramid Teaching"

    Visualize a pyramid.  Now visualize that the pyramid is divided into three sections, the top, the middle, and the bottom.  The bottom, or the base, is the largest section, whereas the top is the smallest section.  The base represents the "big ideas" that you want everyone in the class to learn.  The middle represents the information you want most of the class to learn, and the top represents the material you want the top students to learn. 

   For example, let's say you're putting together a lesson on Native Americans.  You could build your pyramid this way:

Base (the big ideas all students will learn): 

  • There are many different groups of Native Americans.

  • Native Americans used the resources around them for food, clothing, and shelter.

  • Native Americans were the first people to live in North America.

Middle (most students will learn the above and this):

  • The Plains Indians hunted buffalo and lived in tepees.

  • The Southwest tribes lived in pueblos and crafted pottery and blankets.

  • The Northwest tribes fished, lived in plankhouses, and crafted  totem poles.

Top (what the top students will learn all of the above, and this):

  • The history of three selected tribes.

  • The names of famous Native Americans and their contributions to history

  • The impact Native American culture on current American society

Along with Pyramid Teaching, you could also think in terms of

2.  "Layered Learning"

In Layered Learning, you usually have 3 levels (A, B, C) of activities that students complete depending on where they stand (ability-wise) in the classroom.   Students at each level are required to complete a certain set of activities geared towards their particular abilities.  

  • Level C activities will be simpler, easier, and more hands-on than Level B.  At this level basic knowledge and big ideas are the focus.

  • Level B activities take the big ideas a little further.  Students are required to apply or manipulate the basic knowledge.

  • Level A activities are more challenging and complex than those of the other two levels. The students are required to analyze the knowledge.

 At the beginning of the unit, the students get a checklist of activities to fulfill and a rubric detailing what needs to be included in the finished activities.  As you can see, the students work more independently and need guidance in managing their time efficiently.  Take a look at a sample unit.

3.  Flexible Grouping

This is grouping students according to either

  • readiness level,

  • interest, or

  • learning style

This constitutes the "learning environment".  In math class, you may have to think more in terms of readiness level.  Those students that need to reinforce basic math skills may be in one group, while those students who are fluent in those basic skills can work more on application of those skills through problem solving.  In language arts class, you may group students according to interest.  Those students interested in adventure stories may form one group, while those students interested in science fiction may form another.  Each group is assigned an appropriate story to read and to create a project illustrating it.  In a Social Studies class studying the history of Chicago, grouping may revolve around learning styles.  Each group could choose their own unique way to present the information they learned about early Chicago to the rest of the class.


Grouping is not permanent.  Groups can be formed, amended, and disbanded per day, per week, or per unit.  A student could be in different groups per subject.  That's why it's called flexible.  


Differentiated Instruction
Essential Question:  How do I effectively and efficiently reach all students in a heterogeneous environment

Adapt Lessons to Reach All Students

Talking Brain

Differentiated Instruction: A Hotlist of Web Sites
Basic Understandings
What are the specific characteristics and behaviors of a particular group of students?
Learning Styles Multiple Intelligences
How to Adjust Your Teaching Style to Students’ Learning Style Find Out Your Learning Style – online test Multiple Intelligences - 8 Ways of being Smart Technology and Multiple Intelligences
Learning Styles and 4mat system Four Learning Styles Multiple Intelligences - Reflection sheet Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences
    Multiple Intelligences
What methods would you use to enhance learning?
Teaching Strategies
Ways to -Differentiated Instruction   MiddleWeb's Teaching Strategies resources  
Strategies for Differentiating    
Layered Curriculum   Critical and Creative Thinking - Bloom's Taxonomy
What does that look like in my classroom?
Lesson Plans Classroom Management
How to Plan For Differentiate Instruction - Scroll down for content Lesson-Unit Template Differentiating Instruction -strategies
Sample Lesson Plans and Unit Sheets
 Planning a Lesson Sample lesson plan-The Cay Graphic Organizers
Lesson Planning Template Differentiated Instruction - Elementary  
How do I know I am effectively addressing the needs of my students?
Authentic Assessment Rubrics
Authentic Assessment: An Overview Middle School Assessment and Evaluation Assessment and Rubric Information Rubric Generator - Scroll down to locate information
Authentic Assessment Toolbox Student Project Assessment Rubrics from Midlink How to Score A Rubric On A Database
Learn about related topics using online tutorials
Online Tutorial:Multiple Intelligences Tutorial  
Online Tutorial:Cooperative/Collaborative Learning
Online Tutorial:Inquiry-based Learning
Online Tutorial:Constructivism


Instructional Strategies Related to Differentiated Learning

CAST - Differentiated Instruction A tutorial that includes an examination of the components of differentiated instruction and general classroom applications.
Differentiated Instruction A quick and short view by a teacher in Illinois.
Differentiated Instruction: A Hotlist of Web Sites A wide selection of links for basic understanding, teaching strategies, lesson plans, and authentic assessment.
Differentiated Instruction - A Tool for All Students (a 28 page PDF file from the New York State Education Department). Defines differentiated instruction, provides descriptions, gives checklists, rationales, and guidelines and flow diagrams for using various classroom strategies that support differentiated instruction.
Differentiating Instruction Finding Manageable Ways to Meet Individual Needs (Excerpt) (a curriculum update from ASCD).

This article shows how instruction can be differentiated according to: content, process, and product. In addition, several strategies are briefly described.

Indiana Department of Education
Division of Exceptional Learners

A gifted/talented tiered curriculum project. Contains a PDF file of "Rubric for Tiered Lessons." The site is divided into grade levels, subjects and differentiated styles.
Instructional Strategies That Support Differentiation - Montgomery County Public Schools Classroom strategies for differentiated instruction in the specific content area.
Teaching in mixed-ability classroom from the Wisconsin Education Association Council Although some voice doubts, advocates say differentiated instruction can raise the bar for all learners.

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