Differentiated Instruction

Differentiating Instruction: Teaching Differently to Improve Reading Instruction

by Vicki Gibson, Ph.D., Educational Consultant, Gibson Hasbrouck & Associates

What Is Differentiated Instruction?

Practically speaking, differentiating instruction means teaching differently, or changing how instruction and practice occur in schools to enhance student learning, particularly for improving reading achievement. Departing from traditional classroom practice, differentiated instruction includes more interactive collaboration that is data informed and student focused. Following a whole class activity for introducing or quickly reviewing vocabulary or a concept or skill, students then work in small study groups and/or with assigned peer partners. They complete guided practice activities from previously taught lessons, providing feedback to each other. Another small group participates in a teacher-led, small-group reading lesson whose content and feedback are differentiated, specific to student need, to enhance comprehension. Some students work independently completing written assignments using skills that were introduced previously by the teacher and practiced in workstations. Expectations for performance and outcomes vary in response to diverse needs and student progress. In other words, teaching and practice are differentiated because all students do not receive the same instruction, nor do they complete the same assignments at the same time.

Changing old habits to differentiate teaching and learning (or practice) can be challenging if routines have not been established. Managing grouping is essential, and that requires establishing classroom and behavioral procedures that ensure the teacher can teach a small group with minimal disruptions. Student-focused, small-group teaching and guided practice opportunities that enable students to collaborate and practice depart from traditional classroom habits. Although small-group reading instruction is used more frequently in lower elementary classrooms, differentiating teaching and practice in small groups is less common in upper elementary, middle school, and high school classrooms. Thus, differentiated instruction requires adjusting expectations and behavioral habits that affect how we teach and how students practice.

Supported by research and evidence from classroom applications, small-group, explicit reading instruction has been proven effective for increasing opportunities for successful teaching and learning (Elbaum, Vaughn, Hughes, Moody, & Schumm, 2000; Gersten & Dimino, 2001; Gibson & Fisher, 2008; McLeod, Fisher, & Hoover, 2003; Vaughn, Hughes, Moody, & Elbaum, 2001). This article defines organizational features of differentiated instruction, including grouping and classroom management. The goal is to provide guidance for establishing routines that support high-quality differentiated reading instruction, productive guided practice in small groups, and successful independent practice where students demonstrate skill mastery.

pointer Next: Getting Started With Differentiated Instruction


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