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What is Differentiation Learning?

“Differentiation means tailoring instruction to meet individual needs. Whether teachers differentiate content, process, products, or the learning environment, the use of ongoing assessment and flexible grouping makes this a successful approach to instruction.” Tomlinson (n.d.).

There are four techniques that can be used to incorporate differentiated learning into your classroom. They are group lessons, centers, group discussions/questioning, and Technology.

Group Lessons

Grouping students into small groups allow their academic needs can be met. The groups can change based on the student’s needs, strengths, content readiness, and understanding. Students have numerous ways of learning and pending the learning level of the student the groups can change on a day to day basis. (Taylor-Cox, n.d.). In previous observations group lessons excited students being able to work one-on-one with the teacher, independently on the computer, within clustered groups completing workbook assignments, or with the student teacher completing hands-on counting of blocks to understand the overall topic assignment of ones, tens, hundreds, and thousands placement in math. The students were grouped by combination of learning levels. Students were allowed to work in the group lessons and rotate in 15-minute intervals. The group lessons allow students to learn the subject by being taught by the teacher, their peers, the help of the online technology, and individually.

Group Discussions

Conversations in the classroom are a great tool for both teachers and students. Through skillful questioning teachers can assess student’s prior knowledge on a topic and also assess the student’s comprehension level as the students participate in the lessons. This is important because it allows teachers to know the students current ability and determine how they can adjust the lesson to better suit the students’ needs. The teacher may also employ targeted questioning to produce a range of responses and to challenge the more able students (BBC Active, 2010). Group Discussions are also great for students. When students participate in an ideally open-minded class discussion, they learn to express their ideas and listen to their classmates’ ideas as well, thus enriching their learning experience through this exchange (Bacay, 2004). Students are able to problem solve better when they are able to work through it verbally and can bounce thoughts and ideas off of their peers. This can also help students develop social skills that they might have not had prior and learn how to be respectful of others ideas, even when they don’t agree.

For some great ways to make discussions fun click on the following link:


Centers are a great way to give students multiple ways to explore a topic and have several opportunities to understand and try out what they are learning. In a classroom, full of first graders, it can be hard to manage twenty or more students during a messy experiment. However, when you make the activity a center then you will only have three to five students doing it at a time and becomes much more manageable. Centers can also offer students choices and a sense of independence helping them feel a sense of pride in the work they are completing. They also limit the amount of time a student is allowed to complete an activity. This will often hold a student’s attention longer because they want to complete the activity before their time is up. In a classroom each student is different and it unrealistic to expect them all to learn the same way. Centers can provide students with different types of experiences to help them process and gather information in a form that is beneficial to them.

For some tips on how to set up and manage centers click on the following link:


Technology allows students to have hands on access to enrichment games to enhance and build upon their science or math lessons. The online, interactive games vary and have different levels to help reach students needing additional assistance in understanding, students who are trying to reinforce what they have learned, and students who are accelerated. White (2014), “I like to use interactive Web sites which have educational games at different levels or learning. For example, has great math games! Their games have several different ability levels. ThinkFun also has more logical thinking brainteasers from beginner level to expert.” (3). Technology also allows students to work together in their learning groups on projects, interact with each other on individual devices linking to each other, and allow equal access to computers, laptops, pads, etc ., some students may not have access to at home. Blair (2014), “In technology-infused discovery activities, Internet research, virtual manipulatives, and multimedia resources allow students to explore unanswered questions.”(10). Technology also allows teachers to provide videos of math and science techniques and instruction as additional support resource. Teachers can utilize interactive overhead projectors to deliver material to students in the class.

Can the Trend be Used for Math, Science, or Both

Yes, the current trends for differentiating instruction for math and science can be used for teaching both subjects. Group lessons can work well with both math and science. Group discussions are a little more difficult to incorporate in Math but work well in Science and in pre-assessing students knowledge. Centers are a great technique to use in both Math and Science and can really get the students engaged. Technology, depending on what is available in the classroom, can be a great tool for both Math and Science. All of the methods mentioned will allow for teachers to integrate lessons that allow the students to learn the materials on the level they are familiar with learning. When teachers incorporate differentiated learning into their classroom they are creating a support system for their students success.

Instructional Issues Using These Trends

While the four techniques mentioned can be very beneficial to your students they can come with challenges. In Group Lessons it can be difficult to always try to rearrange groups and teachers can often find themselves using the same groups all of the time. This takes away from the students opportunities to work with a variety of students and can limit their learning level. Group Discussions can be a useful tool but they can be hard to plan for. Teachers need to develop their questioning skills to make sure they can effectively guide, challenge, and assess students. You can not prepare for a students response so teachers need to be able to think quickly on their feet and be very prepared. Centers are great for reaching a wide range of diverse learners but can require lots of preplanning. Teachers also need to make sure their class is well managed because center time can very quickly get out of control. Making sure the students know what your expectations are while at centers and the repercussions if they are not met prior to starting centers is very important. As a teacher our students safety, along with their learning, is our number one priority. When students are using technology it can be difficult to monitor what they are being exposed to especially if they have access to internet. While most schools have safeguards there are no guarantees that they will catch everything. Having approved websites set in the favorites toolbar can limit a students ability to accidentally get on a site they shouldn't. Also, students need to learn the importance of handling such equipment with care and responsibility. While there are issues to be aware of when incorporating these techniques, if you are aware of what they are, and take preventative measures, your students will benefit when you incorporate diverse learning into your classroom.

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