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Differentiation of Curriculum and Instruction

Scientists and mathematicians are fond of reminding us that, "Variation is everywhere." In fact, variation drives much of what experts in those two disciplines study and explore. Nevertheless, human nature often seems to struggle to find and focus on similarities rather than differences - especially in the classroom. 

Despite this search for commonalities, teachers, when faced with the vast array of interests, abilities, and experiences nestled within a 30-student classroom, will affirm that just like snowflakes, no two students are alike. Therefore, differentiation of curriculum and instruction is one strategy that educators can use to respect and celebrate the variation found in their students. Essentially, differentiation involves the modification of content, process, product, and/or learning environment to tailor curriculum and instruction to the individual needs of all learners - including gifted learners.

According to Carol Ann Tomlinson (1997) in her article "What It Means to Teach Gifted Learners Well,"

"What it takes to teach gifted learners well is actually a little common sense. It begins with the premise that each child should come to school to stretch and grow daily. It includes the expectation that the measure of progress and growth is competition with oneself rather than competition against others. It resides in the notion that educators understand key concepts, principles and skills of subject domains, and present those in ways that cause highly able students to wonder and grasp, and extend their reach. And it envisions schooling as an escalator on which students continually progress, rather than a series of stairs, with landings on which advanced learners consistently wait."

Differentiation is not the only answer to providing the best services and programming for gifted students in the classroom, but it is an essential part of ensuring that high-ability learners are adequately challenged and make continuous progress. The resources listed below provide an overview of the benefits of differentiation to gifted learners as well as practical tips for using differentiation strategies successfully in your classroom. 

Related Articles

"Teaching Gifted Kids in Today's Regular Classroom" by Susan Winebrenner

"Meeting the Needs of Gifted Learners in the Regular Classroom: Vision or Delusion?" by Carol Ann Tomlinson

"Preassessment: A Differentiation Power Tool" by Catherine M. Brighton

"The Parallel Curriculum Model (PCM): The Whole Story" by Jeanne H. Purcell, Deborah E. Burns, & Jann H. Leppien

"Practical Strategies for the Classroom, Part I: Preassessment" by Jana Kirchner and Tracy Inman. The Challenge, Winter 2005 (pdf). Reprinted with permission from the Center for Gifted Studies, Western Kentucky University.

"Practical Strategies for the Classroom, Part II:  Content, Process, Product" by Tracy Inman and Julia Roberts. The Challenge, Winter 2006 (pdf). Reprinted with permission from the Center for Gifted Studies, Western Kentucky University.

ERIC Digests

"Challenging Gifted Students in the Regular Classroom"

"Differentiation of Instruction in the Elementary Grades"

"Differentiating Instruction for Advanced Learners in the Mixed-Ability Middle School Classroom"

"Differentiating the Language Arts Curriculum for Gifted Students"

Useful Websites

How Students Learn
Download a free copy of How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom, a fascinating book by the Committee on How People Learn, the Center for Studies on Behavior and Development, and the National Research Council.

Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (NWREL)
Download a free copy of Meeting the Needs of Gifted Students: Differentiating Mathematics and Science Instruction from the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. The book is complete with examples and tips for challenging gifted learners in these settings.

Learning Styles Online 
Preassessment is one of the most important aspects of successful differentiation. This 70 question inventory allows students to gain an understanding of their personal preferences in and out of the classroom. This free web-based learning styles inventory also provides a graphical results page for you and your students.

Information about WebQuests
There are many ways in which technology can assist you in differentiating curriculum and instruction. This brief article provides a basic overview of the uses and benefits of webquests. It also offers several links for exploration and webquest construction. The only caveat - be sure to examine pre-existing webquests closely for accuracy and quality before using them in the classroom.

Suggested Reading List

Access a listing of professional resources on differentiation selected with you in mind.


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