Differentiation is a process through which teachers enhance learning by matching students’ characteristics to instruction and assessment. Differentiation allows all students to access the same classroom curriculum by providing entry points, learning tasks, and outcomes that are tailored to students’ needs. In a differentiated classroom, variance occurs in the way in which students gain access to the content being taught (Hall, Strangman, & Meyer, 2003).

Teachers can differentiate content, process, and/or product for students (Tomlinson, 2007). Differentiation of content refers to a change in the material being learned by the student. For example, if the classroom objective is for all students to write persuasive paragraphs, some of the students may be learning to use a topic sentence and supporting details, while others may be learning to use outside sources to defend their viewpoint. Differentiation of process refers to the way in which students’ accesses material. One pupil may explore a learning center while another student collects information from the web. Differentiation of product refers to the way in which the pupil shows what he or she has learned. For example, to demonstrate understanding of the plot of a story, one pupil may create a plot, while another pupil writes a book report.   When teachers differentiate, they do so in response to students’ readiness, interest, and/or learning profile. Readiness refers to the skill level and background knowledge of the child. Teachers use diagnostic assessments to determine students’ readiness. Interest refers to topics that the pupil may want to explore or that will motivate the students. Teachers can ask students about their outside interests and even include pupil in the unit-planning process. Finally, the pupil’s learning profile includes learning style (for example, is the pupil a visual, auditory, tactile, or kinesthetic learner), grouping preferences (for example, does the pupil work best individually, with a partner, or in a large group), and environmental preferences (for example, does the student need lots of space or a quiet area to work). When a teacher differentiates, all of these factors can be taken into account individually or in combination (Tomlinson, 2007).

Differentiation may be made by teachers based on what they know about students’ learning preferences (i.e, abilities, talents, learning styles), allowing students’ choices in working independently, with partners, or as a team; or providing varied work spaces that are conducive to various learning preferences (i.e., quiet work spaces, work spaces with tables instead of desks). Of the utmost importance to the teacher who differentiates is providing a learning environment and opportunities that exclude no child. Tomlinson (2001) identified three elements of the curriculum that can be differentiated: Content, Process, and Products.

Additionally, the following guidelines are provided to help teachers at the nursery and secondary school level form an understanding and develop ideas around differentiating instruction.

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