But how can we best differentiate instruction to classes of 28-32 students, some of whom read at a third grade level and others perform at an 11th grade level? Carol Tomlinson offers some useful strategies in the following article. While it may be a bit old, its content is still applicable to today's middle school (and high school!) teacher. I hope you can use some of these strategies in your classroom.
Differentiating Instruction for Advanced Learners
in the Mixed-Ability Middle School Classroom
Author: Carol Ann Tomlinson
A particular challenge for middle school teachers is being able to differentiate or adapt instruction to respond to the diverse student needs found in inclusive, mixed-ability classrooms. This digest provides an overview of some key principles for differentiating instruction, with an emphasis on the learning needs of academically advanced learners.
- Instruction is concept focused and principle driven. All students have the opportunity to explore and apply the key concepts of the subject being studied. All students come to understand the key principles on which the study is based. Such instruction enables struggling learners to grasp and use powerful ideas and, at the same time, encourages advanced learners to expand their understanding and application of the key concepts and principles. Such instruction stresses understanding or sense-making rather than retention and regurgitation of fragmented bits of information. Concept-based and principle-driven instruction invites teachers to provide varied learning options. A "coverage-based" curriculum may cause a teacher to feel compelled to see that all students do the same work. In the former, all students have the opportunity to explore meaningful ideas through a variety of avenues and approaches.
- Ongoing assessment of student readiness and growth are built into the curriculum. Teachers do not assume that all students need a given task or segment of study, but continuously assess student readiness and interest, providing support when students need additional instruction and guidance, and extending student exploration when indications are that a student or group of students is ready to move ahead.
- Flexible grouping is consistently used. In a differentiated class, students work in many patterns. Sometimes they work alone, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in groups. Sometimes tasks are readiness-based, sometimes interest-based, sometimes constructed to match learning style, and sometimes a combination of readiness, interest, and learning style. In a differentiated classroom, whole-group instruction may also be used for introducing new ideas, when planning, and for sharing learning outcomes.
- Students are active explorers. Teachers guide the exploration. Because varied activities often occur simultaneously in a differentiated classroom, the teacher works more as a guide or facilitator of learning than as a dispenser of information. As in a large family, students must learn to be responsible for their own work. Not only does such student-centeredness give students more ownership of their learning, but it also facilitates the important adolescent learning goal of growing independence in thought, planning, and evaluation. Implicit in such instruction is (1) goal-setting shared by teacher and student based on student readiness, interest, and learning profile, and (2) assessment predicated on student growth and goal attainment.
- Concrete to abstract. Learners advanced in a subject often benefit from tasks that involve more abstract materials, representations, ideas, or applications than less advanced peers.
- Simple to complex. Learners advanced in a subject often benefit from tasks that are more complex in resources, research, issues, problems, skills, or goals than less advanced peers.
- Basic to transformational. Learners advanced in a subject often benefit from tasks that require greater transformation or manipulation of information, ideas, materials, or applications than less advanced peers.
- Fewer facets to multi-facets. Learners advanced in a subject often benefit from tasks that have more facets or parts in their directions, connections within or across subjects, or planning and execution than less advanced peers.
- Smaller leaps to greater leaps. Learners advanced in a subject often benefit from tasks that require greater mental leaps in insight, application, or transfer than less advanced peers.
- More structured to more open. Learners advanced in a subject often benefit from tasks that are more open in regard to solutions, decisions, and approaches than less advanced peers.
- Less independence to greater independence. Learners advanced in a subject often benefit from greater independence in planning, designing, and self-monitoring than less advanced peers.
- Quicker to slower. Learners advanced in a subject will sometimes benefit from rapid movement through prescribed materials and tasks. At other times, they may require a greater amount of time with a given study than less advanced peers so that they may explore the topic in greater depth and/or breadth.
* use of multiple texts and supplementary materials;
* use of computer programs;
* interest centers;
* learning contracts;
* tiered sense-making activities and tiered products;
* tasks and products designed with a multiple intelligence orientation;
* independent learning contracts;
* complex instruction;
* group investigation;
* product criteria negotiated jointly by student and teacher;
* graduated task- and product-rubrics.
ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education