Pros & Cons of 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.

This lesson will include a brief definition and examples of differentiated instruction. You will also learn some of the pros and cons of differentiated instruction.

What Is Differentiated Instruction?

Many years ago, a typical classroom consisted of a teacher lecturing at the front of the room while students sat neatly in rows and took notes. Occasionally, the teacher might ask a student to read a Shakespearean sonnet aloud for the class, or to work out an algebraic equation on the chalkboard. Learning was very uniform and followed a one-size-fits-all approach.

Due to the changing demographics of typical classrooms in the United States over the past few decades, differentiation has become an educational buzzword. Differentiated instruction refers to the process of making the curriculum accessible for all students, including those with learning disabilities; behavior and communication disorders; struggling readers; English Language Learners; and gifted students. When teachers differentiate their instruction, they are adapting instructional methods, materials, and assessments to ensure that all learners have a chance to excel.

One important thing to keep in mind is that the process of differentiation should not change the learning objective or the content standard being met. All students are expected to meet the same standards using different approaches.

What Are Examples of Differentiation?

You want to test students' comprehension of the concept of theme after reading a short story. You set up different learning stations around the classroom and allow students to choose where to work.

At one station, students use art supplies to draw a visual representation of the theme of the story. At another station, students work together writing and performing a one-act play to emphasize the theme of the story. At a third station, students look for specific examples in the text that demonstrate the theme and keep track of them on graphic organizers.

Not only do you give students a choice in how they demonstrate their learning, but you also differentiate the process of working on the assignment. Some students are allowed to stand up and walk around the room as they work on their assignment to help them maintain focus. English Language Learners are allowed to use a bilingual dictionary. Students with visual impairments can use their assistive devices.

In this situation, you have provided differentiated instruction, but you have kept your lesson objective the same for everyone.

What Are the Pros of Differentiated Instruction?

Parents, teachers, and other education stakeholders all point to many benefits of differentiated instruction, including customized instruction, increased motivation, and equitable access.

Customized Instruction

With differentiated instruction, students are provided with an individualized learning experience based on their individual specific needs. Students have an opportunity to do their best work and showcase their strengths and talents, which sets them up for academic success.

Increased Motivation

Since students often have a choice in how they demonstrate their learning, differentiated instruction can help students become motivated to learn. For example, if a reluctant writer has the opportunity to show what she's learned by creating a poster instead of writing an essay, she's much more likely to be engaged throughout the learning process.

Equitable Access

Differentiation helps ensure that all students have access to the curriculum. It provides a kind of flexibility that takes learners' needs into consideration. English Language Learners can overcome barriers to language acquisition with more supports in place. Students with learning disabilities have accommodations that help them meet their goals. Everyone has an equal chance of success when the playing field is leveled.

What Are the Cons of Differentiated Instruction?

Some people don't see differentiation as a solution to meet the needs of all students. Some of the drawbacks, according to opponents, include teacher workload, lowered standards, and time constraints.

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