Differentiated Learning involves individualizing assignments to each student’s learning style, ability, and existing level of understanding. Carol Tomlinson (one of D.I.’s gurus) states
“Essentially, the aim of differentiating instruction is to maximize each student's growth by meeting each student where he or she is and helping the student to progress. In practice, it involves offering several different learning experiences in response to students' varied needs. Learning activities and materials may be varied by difficulty to challenge students at different readiness levels, by topic in response to students' interests, and by students' preferred ways of learning or expressing themselves.”
Tomlinson notes that an obvious feature of the differentiated classroom is that it is student centered. Other key characteristics or elements that form the foundation of effective differentiated learning environments:
- Teachers and students accept and respect one another's similarities and differences.
- Assessment is an ongoing activity that guides instruction. Learning tasks are planned and adjusted based on assessment data.
- All students participate in respectful work; work that is challenging, meaningful, interesting, and engaging.
- The teacher is primarily a coordinator of time, space, and activities rather than a provider of information. The aim is to help students become self-reliant learners.
- Students and teachers collaborate in setting class and individual goals.
- Students work in a variety of group configurations, as well as independently. Flexible grouping is evident.
- Time is used flexibly in the sense that pacing is varied based on student needs.
- At times students have choices about topics they wish to study, ways they want to work, and how they want to demonstrate their learning.
- The teacher uses a variety of instructional strategies to help target instruction to student needs.
- Students are assessed in multiple ways, and each student's progress is measured at least in part from where that student begins.