Renzulli Defines Differentiation as….

“True differentiation requires that we look at all the characteristics of the learner in addition to achievement level.” – Dr. Joseph Renzulli

Simply put, differentiation is matching a required curriculum with the learning styles, expression styles, interests and abilities of students. It’s predicated on the simple belief that engaged, motivated students score higher, are easier to manage, and enjoy learning more. There’s a wealth of data available to illustrate the importance of differentiated instruction for raising test scores – and no doubt, if you’re a teacher, you’ve often heard how important differentiation is.

But how do you manage differentiation in your classroom?

Dr. Renzulli has written about there being Five Dimensions of Differentiation – or five ways to think about introducing differentiation into your teaching practice:

1) Content: Students come to you with different academic abilities, and interests – and so you can differentiate the content those students receive. Some students need content that’s more in line with their interests, or more appropriate for their reading level – and so not every student should be receiving the same content in any given lesson.

2) Instructional Strategies: Students also arrive with different learning styles – some learn best through group work, some by discussion, some by peer tutoring, etc. – so you can differentiate the instructional strategies you use depending on the preferences of individuals or groups in your classroom.

3) The Classroom: You can differentiate the learning environment itself, and how you manage it. You can give students the opportunity to work in groups with students like themselves, or in groups where every student brings a different strength or style – or, you can introduce new guest speakers or technology – or bring your class into new environs like the computer lab, library, or a field trip.

4) Products: Students express what they’ve learned in different ways – some students’ preferred expression style is written – but others may do better with technology, social action, or visual mediums. You can differentiate products by giving students the option, when practical, to pick their own modes of expression.

5) The Teacher: Obviously, it’s hard to imagine every lesson incorporating all of these various strategies for differentiation – so differentiation always comes down to a professional educator, making choices about how to differentiate given shifting dynamics between the curriculum and the students. Differentiation requires not only that teachers know their students’ learning styles, interests, abilities, and expression styles – but that teachers have the freedom, training, and creativity to bring it all together in the classroom.

“Differentiation is a journey that all teachers must take. With multiple levels of achievement, interests, readiness, learning and product styles represented in each classroom, effective and meaningful differentiation may be the most important attribute of the 21st century teacher who wants to help each student make continuous progress in learning.”
– Dr. Sally Reis
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6 Sept. 2010