What is differentiated instruction? Differentiated instruction ensures that every student is challenged according to his or her instructional level or learning style. There are a variety of ways that we as teachers differentiate for our students including flexible grouping, offering them choices, and asking open-ended questions. Another way to differentiate instruction is through tiered assignments. Tiered assignments cluster students according to levels of achievement so that each student is able to work within his or her zone of proximal development (ZPD), or instructional level. Tiered assignments may be structured according to challenge level, complexity, outcome, process, product, or resources. In this lesson, we'll examine each of the ways to tier instruction.
Altering Assignments for Students
When differentiating instruction by challenge level, teachers use Bloom's Taxonomy to provide different assignments to students based on their ability. For example, students at the lowest performance level may reproduce a science experiment while students at a higher level might use the information they've learned to create an entirely new experiment.
Another way to tier instruction is by complexity. When structuring an assignment by complexity, all students are given the same assignment, but the assignment's focus is altered based on achievement. For example, all students are required to create a presentation about the events leading up to the Vietnam War, but higher-achieving students need to focus on making a comparison to the American Revolutionary War.
The third way to structure a tiered assignment is by differentiating the outcome. Like assignments that are differentiated by complexity, all students are given the same assignment, but rather than setting the focus for the students, the teacher leaves the assignment open-ended enough so the result is a variance of student outcomes. For example, after reading a story, the teacher may ask the students to rewrite the final chapter and provide a different ending. This type of differentiation occurs naturally as those with higher abilities will produce a more advanced product.
Another way to tier assignments is through process. This type of assignment asks students to use different means to arrive at the same conclusion. For example, while working on a math assignment, some students will be able to finish without any support. Others may use calculators or manipulatives to assist with problem-solving.
Differentiating by Learning Styles
Differentiating by product uses Gardner's Multiple Intelligences to allow students to demonstrate their knowledge by learning style. For example, students with verbal-linguistic intelligences may create a report on non-renewable resources while students with bodily-kinesthetic intelligences may demonstrate the concept of overconsumption by inventing a game.
An important note is that differentiation, especially in the upper grades, should be tactfully presented. It should be treated as an opportunity for all students to learn from one another rather than a focus on individual ability as a factor.
Differentiated instruction is a way to ensure that all students' needs are met. Tiered assignments can be differentiated by achievement level or learning style. Assignments that are tiered by achievement levels aim to meet students within their zone of proximal development (ZPD), or instructional level. Using Bloom's Taxonomy, teachers can alter assignments for students based on achievement. Open-ended assignments help students make their own adjustments to assignments. Gardner's Multiple Intelligences can assist teachers in making adjustments based on learning style.
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Prompts About Tiered Assignments for Differentiated Instruction:
Write an essay of one paragraph that defines differentiated instruction and tiered assignments.
Example: Briefly note the many different ways tiered assignments can be organized, such as by level or complexity.
Imagine that you are a teacher, and you plan on using tiered assignments as part of the differentiated instruction in your classroom. Think about the importance of tact when utilizing differentiated instruction, and write a letter to your students' parents explaining that you will be using tiered assignments.
Example: Explain in your letter that your use of differentiation is aimed to capitalize on the learning styles of all your students, and is never intended to put students of varying abilities against each other.
Graphic Organizer Prompt:
Make a chart, poster, or other type of graphic organizer that lists and briefly describes the various methods to implement differentiation and tiered assignments (Bloom's Taxonomy, complexity, differentiating the outcome, process, and Gardner's Multiple Intelligences).
Tip: You might find that making an Excel spreadsheet works best here, as it helps keep the information organized.
Lesson Plan Prompt:
Devise a lesson plan for your class on a subject you will be teaching using differentiated instruction. Use at least one differentiated method described in the lesson (and listed on your graphic organizer!) to create a tiered assignment.
Example: If using complexity when teaching about the Civil War, all of your ninth grade students are writing an essay about its causes. You decide to use complexity in which you will ask your higher-performing students to write a letter from the perspective of either an Antebellum Southerner or Antebellum Northerner on the causes.
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