How to Differentiate Instruction with Elements of Content

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  • 0:01 Elements of Differentiation
  • 0:50 Preparing to…
  • 3:00 Differentiating…
  • 4:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

Teachers differentiate the content they teach so all students can learn. What content is modified, and how does this work? This lesson discusses how to differentiate content while still meeting rigorous standards.

Elements of Differentiation

Joan is a new teacher with a lot of energy. She knows she wants to create opportunities for all students to learn, no matter what levels they're on, and knows differentiation is a good method to use to achieve this. Differentiation will allow her to modify what she teaches, how she teaches it, and what she expects students to produce to show they learned. In other words, she'll differentiate content, process, and product.

She'll do this by getting to know her students well. Joan will need to determine her students' levels of readiness; levels of performance on tasks; interests, like sports or animals; and learner profiles, which include things like gender, culture, and learning style. That's a lot of information to consider. She decides to begin by looking at how she can differentiate the content she plans to teach. Let's take a peek as she gets ready.

Preparing to Differentiate Content

Joan may be a new teacher, but she's a smart cookie. She knows that she'll modify content according to student readiness, interest, and learner profile. In other words, until she gets to know who the students are academically and personally, she won't have enough data to make important teaching decisions, like what level books to use or which teaching methods work best.

Before her students come, however, she can do a few things to get ready for differentiation. She can make sure her room is arranged in flexible groupings, allowing for small, whole, and individual learning. She can stock quality materials on several different levels that will be engaging for all learners. For example, her math area has counters for students still working on one-to-one correspondence as well as calculators for more advanced students. Finally, she plans on being flexible, understanding that differentiation is built on meeting students at their unique needs and helping them make progress.

She also checks her national, state, and district standards to make sure the material she uses meets these goals and objectives. Balancing student needs with requirements for student growth is an important piece when planning for instruction.

Once she has a chance to get to know her students well, Joan can begin modifying content as a means of differentiation. What kinds of thing fall under the term content?

  • What is taught, such as facts, figures, and data
  • Ideas, beliefs, and concepts related to facts
  • Opinions or values related to beliefs or facts
  • Skills used to practice and engage in subject matter
  • Materials students use to learn, practice, or engage in subject matter

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Additional Activities

Prompts About How to Differentiate Instruction with Elements of Content:

Essay Prompt 1:

Write an essay of approximately one paragraph that defines differentiation.

Example: You could note that differentiation includes modifications in how teaching is performed.

Essay Prompt 2:

In approximately three to four paragraphs, write an essay that describes why it is important for a teacher to get to know their students before embarking on differentiated instruction.

Tip: Explain the roles of gender and learning styles.

Essay Prompt 3:

Write an essay of at least one page that explains how to differentiate content with subtlety.

Example: Note the importance of constantly assessing student needs when teaching content.

Checklist Prompt:

Create a checklist of tasks that a teacher should perform prior to beginning differentiated instruction.

Hint: Verify that teaching materials correspond with national, state, and district standards of learning.

Graphic Organizer Prompt:

Create a chart, poster, or other type of graphic organizer that lists the different types of content.

Example: Facts and figures.

Lesson Plan Prompt:

Devise a lesson plan that explains how you would go about differentiating specific content in your classroom. Be as specific as you can, first deciding what grade level you are teaching and which specific subject and content you are differentiating.

Example: You are teaching your fifth grade class about the American Revolution, and you want your class to understand the role of the Daughters of Liberty. You begin by asking your class about their prior knowledge of the Daughters of Liberty, which allows you to begin differentiating the content based on skill level.

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