A Differentiated Approach to Learning

Having a differentiated learning model in classrooms allows for more engagement and enhances the overall learning environment. Not all learning styles are alike and differentiating instruction supports a classroom environment where multiple learning styles and interests are designed into the lesson plan. This tailoring allows for more individualization and ultimately teaches to each student’s specific learning styles.

Author and educator, Carol Ann Tomlinson is a leader in the workings of the differentiated classroom. Because differentiation is innately challenging for most teachers who have learned to teach to the entire class or simply scaffold to larger groups, the process of mastering this more individualized method is endless.

In Tomlinson’s book, How to Differentiate Instruction in Academically Diverse Classrooms she states, “Teachers who have become comfortable with differentiated classrooms would probably say their role differs in some significant ways from that of a teacher in a more “traditional” classroom. When teachers differentiate instruction, they move away from seeing themselves as keepers and dispensers of knowledge and move toward seeing themselves as collaborators with students and organizers of learning opportunities. While content knowledge remains important, these teachers focus less on knowing all the answers and more on “reading” and guiding their students. They work persistently to understand their students’ cultures, backgrounds, interests, strengths, and needs. Equipped with this insight, they can partner with students to create learning paths that both capture students’ attention and lead to enhanced comprehension. Organizing a class for effective activity and exploration becomes a high priority.

Teachers who differentiate instruction focus on their role as a coach or mentor, give students as much responsibility for learning as they can handle, and their ability (1) assess student readiness through a variety of means, (2) elicit and interpret student cues about interests learning preferences, (3) create a variety of ways students can interact with information and ideas, (4) develop varied ways students can explore and “own” ideas, and (5) present varied channels through which students can express and expand understandings. “Covering information” takes a back seat to making meaning out of important ideas. Most of us have not been trained to look at teaching in this light but we are learners, too. We may not be able to transform our image of ourselves in a flash, but we can and should remake ourselves over the course of a career (Tomlinson 34 and 35).”

Tomlinson, Carol Ann. How to Differentiate Instruction in Academically Diverse Classrooms. ASCD, 2017.