IDE Corp
Professional Development for Innovative Schools

Differentiated Instruction

Providing students with opportunities to learn based on their cognitive levels, learning styles, and abilities demonstrates respect for their individual differences.

Cognitive researcher Lev Vygotsky introduced the term “Zone of Proximal Development” to represent that information that a person is ready to learn, raising awareness that not all students are ready to learn the same thing at the same time. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Living) points out that in order for students to be “in flow” in their learning, they must be presented with challenges that are just above their ability level, thus speaking to the need to differentiate instruction. True differentiation of instruction is achieved when all students are expected to meet or exceed the same high standards, and teachers offer an array of diverse and rich learning opportunities to ensure that end.

Most educators strive to differentiate instruction at the lesson level, with great difficulty and time investment. We recommend starting at the unit level, which includes lesson-level differentiation, and moving to classroom-level differentiation. This requires building greater student responsibility for learning and shifting the origination of action from the teacher to the student. Unit-level differentiation begins with an open-ended, authentic project-based or problem-based task, which provides a rich venue for student-centered, differentiated instruction. IDE Corp. provides staff development workshops, cohort-based instructional redesign, and leadership seminars in this area.

Consider . . .

• Designing Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classrooms
• Leading teachers to differentiate instruction

Resources for You . . .

• Download IDE’s Learning Style Readiness Brainstorm Grid