Differentiated instruction is responsive to the learning preferences, interests and readiness of individual learners. Teachers can respond to students’ strengths and needs by differentiating:
- The content students explore;
- The process for learning;
- The products students create to demonstrate their learning; and
- The learning environment.
Providing students with interesting and respectful tasks increases student motivation, engagement with the subject matter and achievement. Using differentiated structures offers students a choice for engaging in learning and demonstrating their learning. Regardless of the strategies and structures used, students work on the same curriculum expectations with the same success criteria (adapted from Ontario Ministry of Education, 2016).
Choice Boards, Cubing, RAFTs (Role, Audience, Format, Topic) and Tiering are examples of differentiated structures and strategies that teachers can use to gather evidence of student learning at various points in the learning process. When using differentiated structures, all choices must address the same learning goal and the assessment criteria must be made clear and shared with students before beginning the activity.
A choice board (refer to Table 1) is used to provide students with a choice of tasks to complete based on interest or learning style. The tasks offered may help students to learn a concept, skill or strategy. Choice boards provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways. The choice board tasks are designed using Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory. Choice boards may offer as few as three choices and as many as nine. Students may be directed to select one or more choices, depending on how this strategy is being used for learning.
Sample Learning Goal:
We are learning about rules and guidelines for playing a variety of activities and to apply analytical and problem-solving skills to identify and use tactical solutions so we can increase our chance of success when participating in games.
Table 1: Sample Choice Board
|Sample Choice Board|
Explain basic rules and strategies that are common to games within the same category.
Draw a diagram for an offensive and defensive play for games within the same category.
Construct a small-sided game to apply rules and practice strategies.
Create a play pattern to use against an opponent.
Create your own way to demonstrate your learning or combine any of the choices.
Referee a game within the same category.
Modify or adapt strategies for a particular group of students for a different game within the same category.
Work with a partner to coach your “team.”
Write and reflect on the rules and strategies common to Territory Games that you have used during play.
Cubing can be used in a variety of ways to differentiate learning based on student needs, interests or learning preferences. Students roll a cube and do the activity or answer the question(s) on the side that comes up. A six-sided cube can be constructed using stock paper, with the instructions or questions written on each side. Alternatively, teachers can use a regular die and index cards that have a number from 1 to 6 written on one side and the activity or question(s) written on the other; students roll the die and select the corresponding index card. When using cubes with a group, teachers may ask all group members or only specific individual to respond. Students may also be asked to complete multiple questions or tasks and then share their learning with the class.
Sample Learning Goal:
We are learning about the factors that enhance our mental health and well-being and how our choices and behaviours affect us and those around us.
Sample Cube Text:
Side 1: What are 3 common obstacles that teens face when trying to make healthy choices? Why might these obstacles be difficult to overcome?
Side 2: What skills can teens build to help make healthy choices to support their well-being, and how do these skills enhance their mental and emotional well-being?
Side 3: In your opinion, what are the 3 most important factors that help to keep teens safe? Justify your choices.
Side 4: Explain the relationship between physical, emotional, spiritual and social well-being.
Side 5: Create 3 statements that could be used in a campaign aimed at teenagers to promote behaviours that reduce risk for teens and encourage them to make healthy choices.
Side 6: Illustrate differences in daily routines between someone who leads a healthy active life and someone who does not.
RAFT (Role, Audience, Format, Topic)
RAFT is an acronym for Role, Audience, Format, Topic. These headings are written across the top of a grid and a number of options are created accordingly in each row. Students read across the rows to learn the role they are going to assume, the audience they will address, the format of the work they will produce, and the topic they are going to explore. RAFTs (refer to Table 2) can be created to address student interests (through the topic and audience), student learning preferences (through the format) and various readiness levels (by varying the difficulty of the rows). Students choose an option or the teacher selects it for them.
Sample Learning Goals:
We are learning about the factors that enhance our well-being and the impact of substance use and addictive behaviours on our well-being. We are learning to apply our personal and interpersonal skills to respond to challenging situations involving substance use, addictions and behaviours that are related to these addictions.
Table 2: Sample RAFT
|Music artist||Teen fans||Performance||“My songs reflect how my family, friends and fans have kept me strong and helped me resist the peer pressure and temptations related to being famous. These lyrics are for you.”|
|Teen magazine columnist||Teenagers||Response column||“Help! I have been drinking a lot and experimenting with drugs at parties recently. My friends say that it is really affecting my body and my life. I want to fit in. They worry that I will get a criminal record if I am caught. I don’t know why I can’t break away, and I don’t know what to do.”|
|Drug clinic counsellor||Individual with substance abuse issues||Information pamphlet||If you are dealing with a substance use issue, we can help you to understand the impacts of drugs on your body. Our counsellors can provide you with the support and resources you need.|
|Person recovering from an alcohol addiction||Grade 10 class||Personal testimonial||“My friends encouraged me to try a drink. I tried so hard to stop but couldn’t break away from the pressure. I was in trouble with the police, and my family accused me of dropping out of life. But with support and counselling, I have received the help I need to recover, and today I am telling my story to you!”|
|Ontario Students Against Impaired Driving||School population||Graphic poster||“Drug use affects more than just you—your decisions affect your relationships, your schooling and the safety of others. Don’t know where to go? Help is available!”|
|School welcome crew||New Grade 9s||Slide show presentation||Understand why youth get involved in drugs; Know the facts about substance use; Learn strategies to say no|
|Teen idol||All teens||A book of songs, raps/ poems||Stop Before You Start!; How Did It Get To This?; No Is the Hardest Word; Lost; The Long Road Ahead; I Am More Than This|
Tiering a task or activity means providing different versions suitable to varied levels of readiness. To create a tiered task, teachers choose or create an activity suitable for the grade level, and then create variations to meet the readiness levels within their group, as identified through prior assessments. The choice of tasks should be respectful, engaging, interesting and challenging for all learners. Students may choose to move between the tiers as their skill develops.
Tiering Sample Task 1
We are learning to use retaining skills to increase our chances of success in Territory Games.
Use an implement (e.g. basketball, hockey stick and puck, soccer ball) to practice carrying skills and choose a starting station. Form a team to complete a continuous relay.
Choices of tasks:
- Dribble from one end of the gym to the other and pass the object to a team member.
- Dribble from one end of the gym to the other through pylons placed in a pattern and pass the object to a team member.
- Dribble from one end of the gym to the other using the non-dominant hand/foot through pylons and pass the object to a team member.
- Dribble from one end of the gym to the other against a defender and pass the object to a team member.
Tiering Sample Task 2
I am learning to develop my personal fitness by participating in a variety of fitness activities.
Complete a designated number of lunges to build muscular endurance.
Choices of tasks:
- Perform stationary lunges using a support.
- Perform stationary lunges.
- Perform walking lunges.
- Perform walking lunges while holding appropriate weights.
For more information about how to differentiate instruction, consult the Differentiated Instruction Scrapbook section of the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Differentiated Instruction Educator’s Package (2016).