Differentiated Learning

Definition: Differentiated learning is the idea that learning methods should be tailored to each child for each content area---and specifically that kids who are behind, kids who are on schedule, and kids who are ahead ON A PARTICULAR content area may all benefit the most if they receive different learning supports.

In adopting differentiated instruction, teachers try to identify three characteristics of each student: readiness, interest, and learning profile (style and preference). Differentiated learning can be broken into four basic areas: content, process, product, and environment (Tomlinson, 1999).

Differentiated learning has roots in Vgotsky's //Zone of Proximal Development//, the mixed-ability classroom (Carol Ann Tomlinson's __How To Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-ability Classrooms__ is the preeminent text), and Howard Gardner's //Multiple Intelligences//.

Important Caveat: This idea should not be oversimplified into a tracking mentality---indeed, the focus is on diagnosing each learner for each content area (not giving them a global assessment) and then based on that individualized diagnosis, providing the appropriate learning method.

Example: There is very clear research that suggests that learners who are ahead on a particular content area will LEARN LESS if they are given too much direct instruction (the will benefit more if encourage to practice their skills), while learners who are behind on that content will LEARN LESS if they are thrown too soon into an unstructured practice activity (like a project).

Links:
National Center for Accessible Isstructional Materials
Provides a clear definition, structure, and examples of differentiated instruction, and includes links for further research.

Reading:
: One of the earliest treatise on DI by Charleton Washburne
: ERIC Digest

Research Review

And here is a research review of the literature on differentiated instruction. Click here...

Just for fun, here's a video that attempts to convey the challenges of differentiating instruction.



This page is devoted to a discussion of differentiated learning