Activity Guide

Improving Instruction and Student Learning Through Differentiation

Teachers are challenged to teach all of their students, not just those who are easiest to teach or those whose learning style matches that of the teacher. To do so requires that each teacher build an arsenal of instructional strategies that meet both the strengths of individual students and the learning needs of a diverse student population. Principals are challenged to ensure that teachers have the preparation and support required to accomplish this task. This activity is designed to help principals and school leaders bring a faculty group to consensus around what differentiation means and what it looks like in the classroom. It also allows teachers to identify and share successful differentiation strategies and to add new practices to their “repertoire.”

Reading: Differentiation: From Planning to Practice, 6–12, “Helpful Structures and Strategies for the Differentiated Class,” pp. 65–98, Rick Wormeli, Stenhouse Publishers, 2007.


Pre-Reading Large Group Activity

  1. Ask participants to write down their definition of differentiation and a few strategies three to five that they have used to differentiate instruction in their classrooms.
  2. Break the large group into smaller groups of about 8–10 (number may vary depending on the size of the large group). In small groups:
    • Share individual definitions and strategies.
    • Reach a consensus on a common definition, write it on chart paper, and select a reporter to share with the large group.
    • Reconvene the large group.
    • As each group shares and posts its consensus definition, ask all participants to listen for commonalities among the definitions. When all groups have shared, ask participants to share the commonalities they heard. Write these on chart paper for all to see.
    • Discuss any discrepancies between the definitions and the likelihood of forming one consensus definition.
    • Distribute copies of “Helpful Structures and Strategies for the Differentiated Class,” and ask staff to read the section entitled “General Differentiation Approaches,” (pp. 65–81) prior to the next meeting.
    • Encourage participants to read the text closely, highlight passages, make notations, and be prepared to discuss their insights, questions, and concerns when the group meets next.

Large Group Discussion I

  1. Ask participants to sit in smaller groups of about 8–10. Depending on school focus, the groups may be random or assigned by instructional teams, grade levels, or departments.
  2. In each small group, ask a member to share an insight, question, or concern that the reading raised. Record the answers, ensuring that everyone has multiple opportunities to participate in the discussion. Select a group participant to summarize the discussion in the large group meeting.
  3. Facilitate a large group discussion that highlights the insights, questions, or concerns that were raised in the smaller groups. Continue the conversation about new strategies that may improve current practices.

Large Group Discussion II

  1. Prior to the discussion, ask participants to read, highlight, and make notations in the section “Tiering,”( pp. 81–98).
  2. Ask participants to identify and mark those strategies that can be used to raise or lower the level of instructional complexity within a classroom.
  3. Reconvene the large group but ask participants to sit in content area groups for this discussion. Ask group members to discuss insights gained by reading this part of the chapter and discuss specific strategies that they can use in their content area to raise or lower the level of instructional complexity.
  4. Facilitate a large group discussion regarding the action steps that the school can take to provide teachers with the support and professional development necessary to increase the level of differentiated instruction at the school. Data gathered from the above discussions and activities can be used by the leadership team to determine next action steps. Use the discussion guide planning tools as needed. For planning new school initiatives, use the Process Circle.

Extend and Apply

Continue the conversation with your instructional teams by viewing and discussing strategies in these resources:

  • video clip (about 20 minutes) of Rick Wormeli discussing differentiation practices.
  • A series of three podcasts of Rick Wormeli discussing the book.