Manual Differentiated Instruction: Making It Work (Differentiation Instruction)

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Effective differentiation is typically designed to be robust enough to engage and challenge the full range of learners in the classroom. Many teachers incorrectly assume that differentiating instruction means giving some students more work to do, and others less. For example, a teacher might assign two book reports to advanced readers and only one to struggling readers. Or a struggling math student might have to complete only computation problems while advanced math students complete the computation problems plus a few word problems.

Although such approaches to differentiation may seem reasonable, they are typically ineffective. One book report may be too demanding for a struggling learner. A student who has already demonstrated mastery of one math skill is ready to begin work with a subsequent skill. Simply adjusting the quantity of an assignment will generally be less effective than altering the nature of the assignment.

Teachers who understand that teaching and learning approaches must be a good match for students look for every opportunity to know their students better. They see conversations with individuals, classroom discussions, student work, observation, and formal assessment as ways to keep gaining insight into what works for each learner. What they learn becomes a catalyst for crafting instruction in ways that help every student make the most of his or her potential and talents.

In all classrooms, teachers deal with at least three curricular elements: 1 content—input, what students learn; 2 process—how students go about making sense of ideas and information; and 3 product—output, or how students demonstrate what they have learned. Differentiated classrooms operate on the premise that learning experiences are most effective when they are engaging, relevant, and interesting to students. The following steps were performed: 1 collect preliminary knowledge, 2 identify knowledge representations, 3 apply focused knowledge elicitation methods, 4 analyze and verify data acquired, 5 format the results for the intended application.

Table 2 presents how the steps described by Clark et al. Step 1, collecting preliminary knowledge required for conducting the CTA, encompassed a literature study on differentiation, and focused on inventorying real-life situations and tasks requiring teacher differentiation skills through classroom observation and interviews. In Step 2, identifying knowledge representations, the format in which knowledge as collected in Steps 3 and 4 will be represented is determined. Ten steps to complex learning: A systematic approach to four-component instructional design 3rd ed. New York, NY : Routledge.

The representations refer to a a skill hierarchy in which all constituent skills and their mutual relationships are described, b an overview of the associated knowledge enabling teachers to execute these skills cognitive strategies, mental models, and cognitive rules , and c factors related to complexity that are used to sequence differentiation tasks based on their complexity.

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For Step 3, applying elicitation methods, observations of lessons by expert teachers were used, followed by semistructured interviews with these teachers stimulated recall , and combined with information from a joint expert meeting with them. The classroom observations and individual interviews at this step are the same as those in Step 1. Therefore, in practice, Steps 1 and 3 were partially performed simultaneously.

Differentiated Instruction: Definition, Examples, and Strategies

For Step 4, analyzing and verifying the data acquired, we analyzed the data collected in Step 3 and subsequently verified this information in an expert meeting with other subject-matter experts. Step 5, finally, did not play a role yet. This step refers to using all the information collected for designing a training program for teachers.

Applied Differentiation: Making it Work in the Classroom (preview video 2)

CTA steps. The relatively more specific constituent skills at lower levels enable the learning and performing of skills higher up in the hierarchy. Development and teaching of complex skills in invasive procedures. Lanzer Ed. Berlin : Springer. Moreover, the required constituent knowledge was identified, as well as the factors contributing to the complexity of executing the task.

Two groups of experts were consulted to obtain a comprehensive image of the complex differentiation task. First, nine primary school teachers, considered to be differentiation experts, were identified through a network of school inspectors, educational consultants, school boards, and teacher training institutes. Criteria for inclusion were that they were teaching in Grades 1 to 6 in regular primary schools precluding Montessori, Jenaplan, and Dalton schools in which regular mathematics textbooks were used. Characteristics of these teachers are presented in Table 3. As is for the majority of primary school teachers in The Netherlands, these expert teachers taught mathematics based on instructional plans in which they describe the instructional approach they planned to follow for several ability groups Inspectie van het Onderwijs, Inspectie van het Onderwijs.

Opbrengstgericht werken in het basisonderwijs [Data-based decision making in elementary education]. Characteristics of expert teachers at the time of the classroom observation. In addition to the expert teachers, 10 subject-matter experts were selected from the networks of the authors. The aim was to compose a group of experts with varying perspectives on differentiation.

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This group of subject-matter experts included three school inspectors, four educational consultants, one teacher trainer, and two researchers. The expert group consisted of experts on the pedagogy of mathematics educational consultants and researchers , professionals who provide training courses in differentiated instruction teacher trainers and educational consultants , experts who study differentiation researchers , and those who evaluate differentiation school inspectors.

What Is Differentiated Instruction?

As is shown in Table 2 , the first step involved collecting preliminary knowledge required for conducting the CTA and making an inventory of real-life tasks and classroom situations that require differentiation skills. This was done through classroom observation during mathematics lessons, followed by semistructured interviews Step 3 according to Clark et al.

Next, the subject-matter experts were consulted with the goal of verifying and expanding the data collected from teachers Step 4 according to Clark et al. Data collection and analysis were conducted iteratively in which each stage of data collection was followed by a short analysis providing input for the next stage. After this trajectory, a comprehensive analysis was conducted, leading to the results presented in this paper. During the first step of the CTA, two subsequent mathematics lessons of eight teachers were videotaped.

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This allowed us to obtain more insight into their differentiation approaches and strategies, their reasoning, and the constituent skills required for differentiating. Action identification and human behavior. Psychological Review , 94 1 , 3 — In these interviews, 3 to 10 lesson fragments were reviewed and discussed. The researcher selected situations that appeared to require teacher differentiation skills. With what goal? In order to obtain as much information as possible, the researcher could ask the teacher to elaborate. To acquire a comprehensive conceptualization of differentiation, each teacher was asked a number of more general questions about the classroom composition, the course of events during the lesson in general, lesson preparation, how differences between students were addressed during the lesson, the evaluation of student work, and the complexity of differentiation. All interviews were recorded and transcribed. The next CTA stage was an expert meeting involving seven of the nine expert teachers.

The first goal of this meeting was to make an inventory of differentiation complexity factors. For this purpose, two groups of teachers described five authentic situations calling for teacher differentiation skills, sequencing them from simple to complex. Based on the sequence, an overview was made of the factors that make differentiation easier or more complex during a plenary discussion.

Systematic approaches and especially implicit strategies that teachers apply when they differentiate were gathered by means of an activity in which teachers used post-its to first describe and later sequence their actions during a lesson. The findings from the classroom observations, interviews, and the expert meeting with teachers were presented to 10 subject-matter experts during a second expert meeting. The goal of this meeting was twofold. The first goal was to verify the first version of the skill hierarchy and the complexity factors.

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The second goal was to gather input for specifying the standards for acceptable performance by prioritizing constituent differentiation skills. This was done by asking all subject-matter experts to identify those constituent skills that, in their opinion, were crucial for teachers to differentiate well. Next, the subject-matter experts formulated performance standards for these crucial constituent skills.

During this meeting, other constituent skills were also discussed.

Page 4: Differentiate Instructional Elements

The discussions in groups as well as the plenary discussions were audio-taped and transcribed. The first two authors of this article analyzed the data in an iterative process, taking place parallel to data collection. After each stage of data collection, data were analyzed and outcomes were used in the subsequent stage of data collection. The researchers started by studying, summarizing, and sorting the information available from interviews and the expert meeting with teachers independently from each other.

The classroom observations were used as a basis for the interviews and were therefore not analyzed. The interviews were used for finding general themes and behavioral patterns mentioned by a sample of teachers. This information was extended with the systematic approaches as described by the teachers during the expert meeting.