What is Differentiated Learning?

Differentiated Learning is a new instructional approach that encourages educators to go beyond the one-size-fits-all classroom. It has been around for about 10 years, but it’s only recently become widespread in the United States.

The goal of this method is to create an individualized learning experience for each student by tailoring content and instruction to their needs and capabilities so they can meet specific goals. Differentiated Learning may be used in any age or grade level, but recent research has focused primarily on elementary-aged children.

Differentiated Learning vs. Whole Group Instruction

The main distinction between these two approaches is that traditional education operates under the assumption that all students are at roughly the same point in terms of academic or social development, and that all of them can learn the same things at about the same rate.

Instead of tailoring instruction to individual needs, teachers may force every student to study the exact same curricular materials at virtually identical paces.

Differentiated Learning vs. Special Education

Special education classes are specifically tailored so that students with different needs, preferences, interests, and abilities are grouped together based on similar characteristics.

Put another way, children are placed in special education because they have unique learning requirements—and not necessarily because their academic performance falls short of standard expectations.

Differentiated Learning is geared more toward helping students who perform well but need additional support meeting certain goals than addressing the hurdles faced by those specialized learning requirements.

Differentiated Learning vs. Differentiated Curriculum

Differentiated Learning is geared more toward helping students who perform well but need additional support meeting certain goals than addressing the hurdles faced by those specialized learning requirements.

A differentiated curriculum, on the other hand, refers to lessons that are tailored to individual learning styles and preferences outside of reading and math. For example, some students may learn best through hands-on activities; others might prefer an auditory or visual style; some may excel at creating projects while others flourish via computer programs; still, others may be entirely self-directed learners.

Educators can create differentiated curricula by offering a range of options within individual subjects—creating computer groups for one class period but art classes another; arranging science lessons in small groups; or incorporating more hands-on projects.

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