Direct Instruction vs. Differentiated Instruction

Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

In this lesson, teachers will learn about the difference between direct instruction and differentiated instruction. Specific examples will be used to demonstrate each instructional method.

What is Direct Instruction?

Direct instruction is a type of instruction that involves a teacher presenting, lecturing, modeling, explaining, or otherwise leading the class. The teacher is at the center of the classroom, and students take notes, ask and answer questions, and demonstrate their knowledge through various assessments. The teacher's goals and objectives are the driving force behind instruction.

With direct instruction, the teacher maintains complete control of the learning process. After deciding what content standards and lesson objectives students should meet, the teacher sits down to plan her lesson. All elements of the instruction are strategic, sequential, and teacher-led.

For example, when introducing the use of metaphor in poetry, the teacher might begin the lesson with a brief lecture about metaphor using a PowerPoint presentation to reinforce the content. Next, she might ask students to quietly read a section about figurative language from their textbook and answer some questions.

After collecting the students' classwork, the teacher might provide students with several poems and ask them to write down all the metaphors they find. Finally, she may assign students to write an original poem using at least three metaphors for homework.

More Examples of Direct Instruction

Direct instruction occurs whenever a teacher is:

  • Lecturing with the aid of a PowerPoint as students take notes
  • Demonstrating for students how to do a science experiment
  • Reading aloud to the class or asking for student volunteers to read
  • Answering students' questions
  • Showing students how to graph an equation
  • Explaining some of the causes of the Civil War
  • Playing a movie as students take notes using a graphic organizer
  • Modeling how to write a paragraph
  • Diagramming a sentence on the chalkboard
  • Analyzing a poem

What is Differentiated Instruction?

In contrast to direct instruction, differentiated instruction places students at the center of the classroom. The philosophy behind differentiation is that all students, including English learners and those with learning disabilities, have equitable access to the curriculum. Students' learning needs and preferences are the driving force behind instruction.

For example, a science teacher is concluding a unit on animal habitats and wants to assess his students' knowledge about what animals need to survive in different habitats. He provides students with a menu of options and asks them to choose how they would like to demonstrate their learning.

Students who are visual learners might choose to create a diorama of a rainforest using a shoe box and art supplies. To demonstrate their knowledge, they could make sure to include examples of what animals from the rainforest need to survive, such as other animals that are lower on the food chain.

Other students might write a creative narrative from the perspective of an animal explaining what it takes to survive in their chosen habitat.

All students are expected to demonstrate an understanding of what it takes an animal to survive in their chosen habitat, but there is flexibility in the way they choose to show their knowledge.

More Examples of Differentiated Instruction

Other examples of differentiated instruction include:

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