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Differentiated Instruction in Curriculum

Curriculum refers to the content of what is learned and is being taught, resources used in teaching-learning processes and how assessment is done. It happens that teachers in their classrooms use curriculum designed by authorities. But major question is: do these curriculums ensure that all students get to learn effectively? According to U.S. Education report, about 96% of teachers encounter students with learning disabilities in their classrooms (Rock, Gregg & Ellis, 2008).

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Globally, situation is not different as it has been noted that challenges facing teachers are not only limited to having students with learning disabilities in their classrooms but also due to having students who have different cultural and linguistic backgrounds which may not be necessarily compatible with traditional schooling (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005).

Research findings indicated that most of prescribed curriculums used by many teachers did not address effectively the individual needs of students. They are found to have adverse effects on students with disabilities. Such students have significantly different cognitive abilities and require tailored learning-teaching method to meet their needs. Failure to do this has resulted in poor performance, increased dropout rates and high rates of unemployment among these children (Lewis & Batts, 2005). Therefore, in this paper I would like to emphasize the need of revising the prescribed curriculum in classrooms by integrating differentiation instruction in order to ensure that the needs for all students are fairly met.

Differentiation instruction can be described as a process that facilitates the way students learn and demonstration of that which has been learned to correspond to students’ readiness level, their interests and such learning as their preferred mode (Lewis & Batts, 2005). Therefore, from this definition we find that an effective education approach is the one which not only focuses on rigorous content but respects differences in students’ prior knowledge and interests and is the preferred mode of learning.

Prescribed curriculums rarely address this. Cognitive psychology and research findings concerned with achievement of students in studies support a number of principles that underpins an effective instructional design. One of such principles supports that human beings are more likely to construct meaning than passively receive it. Every aspect of learning should be guided by generalized principles that are vast in application but so appropriate to meet diverse population’s need (McTighe & Brown, 2005).

Research studies indicate that when there is a coverage of many topics it does not help students develop competency in subject-matter. In addition, though feedback is very important in learning process, in most of classroom learning sessions it is omitted. A person has different ways of learning and achieving what has been learned. It has been recognized to students can only measure factual knowledge gained and do not go further to find out if students are aware where the reason for using knowledge is acquired (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). For this reason, it should be noted that there is a close linkage between how students achieve learning and education process that make use of differentiation principles (McTighe & Brown, 2005).

Wiggins & McTighe (2005) have created the stages according to which the curriculum is to be planned. The first stage is devoted to planning. Moreover, the information at this stage is to be used only by the designers of the lesson as the goals reflected here are to be understood only by the teachers. The next stage is to be devoted to the evidence which are to be used for achieving the results discussed in the third stage. The third stage should be the representation of the learning activities directed at making students interested by means to referring to their skills, knowledge and experience.

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It is observed that differentiated instruction operates on theoretical framework, beliefs and guiding principles. This theoretical framework is derived from cognitive psychology and also based upon research focusing on student achievement. Theoretical framework is supported by four guiding principles that are associated with differentiating practices carried out in the classroom. One of the guiding principles is the attention to essential ideas and skills in the content. The second principle can be summarized in terms of integrating assessment and instruction. The third principle focuses on being responsive to each of individual student’s differences. The last principle involves the process of ongoing adjustment of content and products in a way suitable to meet the levels of prior knowledge of each student, style of expression and critical thinking (Tieso, 2005).

Differentiation instruction is also based on certain beliefs. One of such beliefs is that students of same age have different readiness when it comes to learning even in their interests and style of leaning. Their experience and life circumstances are not the same. These differences are sufficient to make great impact in respect to what students require in order to learn, pace of their learning as well as the kind of support suitable to them from their teachers (Tomlinson, 2000).

Evidence-based educational research indicates that students can achieve more if supportive adults can press them slightly beyond the point they are able to work without help. If there is a connection between students’ interests and curriculum, effective learning can be realized. In order to enhance capacity of students in learning there should be a sense of community between schools and classrooms. By this students feel valued and respected (Tomlinson, 2000).

Differentiation instruction can be perceived in two ways. The first way is that educator can decide to modify the teaching and learning content or process (Nordlund, 2003). The second one is that teachers can consider varying what they expect for completing a task in a given lesson or across instructional unit. For example, varying graphic organizers, scaffolding strategies, previewing and offering direct instruction in small groups can be some of the ways teachers can vary their expectations in respect to students’ completing tasks. No doubt, many students have been found to benefit from instructional methods which are diverse (Lawrence-Brown, 2004).

However, there are a number of misconceptions that are associated with differentiate instruction. If differentiation instruction is used, a student will turn out to be poorly prepared for standardized tests. Some people perceive that if teachers decide to implement differentiation instruction, they are bound to create workloads unfairly. It is also mistaken to believe that there would be unfairness if a student were given a credit for learning while he/she has not demonstrated the same knowledge as others in the classroom. Last misconception is that if differentiation instruction is applied in learning, students will not be competitive enough in the real world (Wormeli, 2005).

The number of evidence-based research has been conducted to find out the effectiveness of differentiation instruction. For instance, certain qualitative study assessed teachers and students who took a three-week enhanced math unit to investigate impact of differentiation instruction. Findings indicated that there were a number of positive impacts from students in terms of motivation, level of engagement and excitement in learning process (Tieso, 2001).

Another study carried out in the area of reading which applied differentiated approaches that consisted of students’ choices of various tasks, flexible grouping, increased self-selected reading and accessibility to different reading resource material also found positive outcomes. It revealed significant improvements in respect to students’ instructional reading levels. Several strategies such as mastery of phonemic, decoding skills, and reading attitudes were used (Tieso, 2005).

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Findings from curriculum-based assessment that included before and after assessment measures to evaluated student performance indicated that students who possessed diverse abilities and got intervention had greater achievements in math unit compared to those who did not get differentiated instruction (Tieso, 2005). A certain qualitative study was conducted to find out how differentiate instruction approach is implemented in students with cognitive disabilities revealed several aspects that reflected this approach (McTighe & Brown, 2005).

Such included reduced emphasis on whole class lessons, high level of peer-assisted learning and presence of team-teacher collaboration. Another study which employed problem solving tasks in differentiation science instruction with two mixed ability class indicated positive academic outcomes with need for teachers to allocate enough time for their students so that they can reflect and be able to evaluate their learning (Odgers, Symons & Mitchell, 2000).

Although there are overwhelming evidence that differentiated instruction approach is of great benefit for students it is not applied in a large scale in learning. Possible reasons are that only few general teachers are ready to deal with students who have varied learning needs and where teachers are willing to use differentiation instruction there are challenges such as overwhelming responsibilities and need for substantial content coverage (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). Nevertheless, benefits of differentiated instruction outweigh setbacks to implement it. For this reason, intense advocacy and sensitization to education authorities is needed so that differentiation instruction can be integrated into the standard curriculum in order to meet the needs of all students.


Lawrence-Brown, D. (2004). Differentiated instruction: Inclusive strategies for standards-based learning that benefit the whole class. American Secondary Education, 32, 34-62.

Lewis, S., & Batts, K. (2005). How to implement differentiated instructions? Adjust, adjust, adjust. Journal of staff development, 26(4), 26-31.

McTighe, J., & Brown, L. J. (2005). Differentiated instruction and education standards: Is De’tente Possible? Journal of theory into practice, 44(3), 77-95.

Nordlund, M. (2003). Differentiated instruction: Meeting the educational needs of all students in your classroom. Lanham: Scarecrow Education.

Odgers, S., Symons, A., & Mitchell, I. (2000). Differentiating the curriculum through the use of problem solving. Research in Science Education, 30, 289-300.

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Rock, L. M., Gregg, M., Ellis, E., & Gable, A. R. (2008). Reach: a framework for differentiating classroom instruction. Preventing Child Failure, 52(2), 37-46.

Tieso, C. (2001).Curriculum: Broad brushstrokes or pain-by-the numbers? Teachers Educator, 36,199-213.

Tieso, C. (2005). The effects of grouping practices and curricular adjustments on achievement. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 29, 29-36.

Tomlinson, A. C. (2000). Reconcilable differences? Standards-based teaching and differentiation. Education leadership, 58(1), 24-39.

Wormeli, R (2005). Busting the myths about differentiated instruction. Principal Leadership, 5(7), 28-33.

Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. New York: ASCD Publishers.

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