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Differentiated Instruction PDF Print E-mail

Differentiated instruction is, at a basic level, teaching with student differences in mind.  It means starting where the students are rather than using a standardized approach to teaching which tries to force all students to be the same as another.  Differentiated instruction is responsive teaching rather than a one-size-fits-all method of teaching.

Art seems to get this concept and has done so for years.  In a typical art class, each student is assessed and is subsequently graded on their progress, not their current ability level.  A good art class gives students choices and teaches concepts and techniques in varied ways in order to help each student understand key ideas. That's the key idea of differentiated classrooms - the students are regularly offered choices and students are matched with tasks compatible with their individual learner profiles.

Instruction should be differentiated in three main ways:

  1. Content:  students should have multiple options for taking in information.  The teacher could mix audio lectures with more visuals, hands-on materials, or examples that relate to the learners more.
  2. Process: students should have multiple options for making sense of the ideas.  Perhaps the teacher includes more social activities, discussion, interviews, and hands-on activities.  Perhaps students have more or less time to work on tasks, or work in teams more.
  3. Product:  students should have multiple options for expressing what they know.  Multimedia productions, interactive reports, presentations, papers, and public productions could be created by students to demonstrate their understandings.

Again, I think about art classes and how each student's experience is tailor-made to his or her own needs.  There is a misconception that differentiated instruction requires multiple lesson plans for each group - that's incorrect.  Instead, tasks should be given some wiggle room and students should be given a few choices on how they learn.  In a typical art class, student have many choices about what they will work on to demonstrate their understanding of line, color, balance, or certain art movements, etc.  They are given options about how to approach their art as well.  When will this kind of practice make it into the traditional classroom?  Perhaps our teachers should be observing more art classrooms.