What Is Differentiation?

Essential question: In a nutshell, what is Differentiation?

         What is differentiation? Well, dictionary.com defines it as the act or process of differentiating. So then some might ask what is differentiating? It is defined as to form or mark differently from other things, to change; alter and to make different by modification. To me, differentiation in the classroom means to try to create the best possible learning environment for each student. What do I mean by this? Well, first, I think you need to get to know your students, their interests, their likes, their dislikes, and their learning styles. You do this in the beginning of the year and throughout the year. Do surveys, talk to them, try new things out with them and see how they like them.
In “What Differentiated Instruction Is and Isn’t,” Carol Tomlinson (2001) states that a differentiated classroom “provides different avenues to acquiring content, to processing or making sense of ideas, and to developing products so that each student can learn effectively” (p.1). I think most teachers try to do this when we are presenting information and teaching. I try to use all of the senses—visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. I think the more senses you use and the broader you are presenting your information the more students you can reach. I try to differentiate as best as I can in my classroom. I try to use technology as much as I can. I use visual aids, auditory and kinesthetic. I give students a choice to choose how they want to present information learned when we are doing a project. I give the requirements and show them and give them ideas, but then let them decide how they would like to present it. Students who have a choice of what they want to do are more likely to complete the project for you. They also have fun and enjoy what they are doing.

Some ideas that I have use I have gotten from Standard-based Activities and Assessments for The Differentiated Classroom by Carolyn Coil (2004). If you have not heard of or seen this book, I highly suggest that you look at it or even buy it. It is an excellent reference and it also has a CD in the back of the book that you can use. I have used many ideas and activities presented in it. As Coil writes, “Differentiated curriculum moves teachers away from the ‘one size fits all’ curriculum that really fits no one! It encourages students to become responsible for their learning and to recognize and use their own strengths, thereby helping them become lifelong learners” (Coil, 2004, p. 1).

Students came to us from different backgrounds, different learning styles, and a variety of ethnic and culture backgrounds. We have a variety of learning styles and readiness of what we want them to learn. Some students will be ready for what you have to teach them, some will not be ready and need extra time and support, and some of them will be striving all on their own. We as teachers need to try to help each one of our students move forward and become lifelong learners. I think that using differentiation in your classroom is one way that you can make sure that you are reaching that student. You will see your classroom transform and your students excited about what you have to show them if you differentiate and teach to each student’s learning style.


Coil, C. (2004). Standard-based Activities and Assessments for the Differentiated Classroom. Marion, IL: Pieces Of Learning.

Smith, G. E., & Throne, S. (2009). Differentiating Instruction with Technology in Middle School Classrooms. Eugene, OR, USA: ISTE. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com

Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms. Alexandria, VA, USA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development (ASCD). Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com

2 thoughts on “What Is Differentiation?

  1. I believe in giving students voice and choice in their learning; it is an important skill they will need in life and in the workplace. Learning about how students learn helps me, but it also helps them to understand how they learn best. I try to also challenge my students to try new things and be willing to adapt in new and sometimes “uncomfortable” learning environments where they can apply previously learned knowledge and skills. The diversity that students bring can also help them to learn how to work with others in different ways. Thanks for the book resource, I will definitely look into that!

    Liked by 1 person

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