Week 1: What is Differentiated Instruction?



I have decided to title my infographic as Differentiated Math Instruction to indicate my perspective as a high school math teacher.  I have read articles in the past concerning this topic, but not as deep as during this assignment.  The information contained in this graphic mirrors what Carol Tomlinson addresses in her text. (2001)  If you follow the path from the top left to the bottom, it passes through the major elements of differentiated instruction.

As I reflect on my experiences with instruction in high school math, I feel inadequate in the area of differentiated instruction as I review these elements.  I admit to not utilizing most of these elements.  In fact, I am guilty of doing those things that are not differentiated instruction.  I usually teach students as though they are all the same, and I know I shouldn’t.  I understand the differences in learning styles, but it can be difficult to incorporate a variety of them in an upper level mathematics class.  Another major fallacy in my instruction is that I tend to use quantity of practice problems and equate this to more understanding.  Practice makes perfect, right?  I have a lot to learn.

I found several websites that described a math teacher’s perspective on differentiated math instruction.  Robert Pronovost uses computer games after whole group instruction by using technology to provide students with immediate feedback. (2012)  Although this component is not listed specifically in my infographic, I believe it falls under the element of multiple approaches in relation to process.  One aspect of learning math that I do believe in is immediate feedback.  It doesn’t help anyone when a student does work, but doesn’t get feedback until a day later, or in some cases a week!  I, too, believe technology would help in differentiated instruction in this aspect.

Another math teacher indicated that their definition of differentiated math instruction was about teaching math developmentally. (2016)  I get what they are saying.  Students come to math class with a wide array of skill and knowledge, even in a class such as Algebra 2.  You would think students are prepared for an advanced level algebra course, yet you can have students in this class not skilled at combining fractions, or understanding fully what functions are.  In order to attain a higher level of understanding of Algebra 2, you need that solid foundation that precedes it.  It’s incremental.  And in my personal opinion, the study of mathematics is very similar to learning a foreign language, or learning to play a musical instrument.  They both involve quite a bit of preparation, practice, and understanding in order to advance in skill.  Technology can assist in this avenue as well.

Smith and Throne believe that technology can assist with differentiated instruction in areas of engagement, readiness, and learning styles. (2009)  These are areas that I feel technology can help students too.  I currently use an online math resource that helps in these areas and I feel it does benefit students.  The class I am utilizing this resource in is a “support class” for Algebra 1.  I can confidently say that it allows students to be more successful than not having such as resource.  So, in a way, I do use some sort of differentiation in my math classes currently, but still feel inadequate in the whole process.


K5CHALKBOX. (2016). What is Differentiated Math Instruction? Retrieved from http://www.k5chalkbox.com/differentiated-math-instruction.html

Pronovost, Robert. (2012). Differentiating in Math Using Computer Games. Teaching Channel. . Retrieved from https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/differentiating-in-math#video-sidebar_tab_video-guide-tab

Smith, G. E., & Throne, S. (2009). Differentiating Instruction with Technology in Middle School Classrooms. Eugene, Or: International Society for Technology in Education [ISTE].

Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-ability Classrooms. Alexandria, Va: Assoc. for Supervision and Curriculum Development.



7 thoughts on “Week 1: What is Differentiated Instruction?

  1. I love your infographic. I want to print it out and put it up in my room as a road map (which is exactly the graphics you used)! I hear what you are saying about feeling inadequate. I know you are an experienced teacher and I doubt that you are inadequate. I think (based on talking to colleagues) that all teachers feel like we are not doing enough for our students. We strive to do more, to be better, to help students succeed and I bet that makes you a great teacher. I can tell that you care about your students and their learning. I keep looking back at your “Differentiation Roadmap” and I want to pick one thing that I could do for the rest of this year. I have noticed that my 4th graders like to teach each other and that is definitely something that I could ramp up this semester. Would you give me permission to print your infographic and put it up by my desk? I would like to have it right in front of me as I make lesson plans each week.


    • Thank you for the complement! Of course you can print it out and use it. My thought for this assignment was to show how differentiation was a path/roadmap and that it is a process. I do care about students’ learning and I always feel I don’t do enough. I appreciate you saying other teachers feel the same.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your info-graphic was spot on. I really appreciate that you added that the students should also instruct the class. This helps them to learn the information forward and backwards. I can understand how it would be hard to differentiate in high school math. There are different ways to get to an answer, but usually only one answer. In elementary school I think it is a little easier to differentiate. In math, students are usually learning the basics and there are a lot of ways to teach the basics. I also find with older students that sometimes the curriculum makes math harder for some students. When students are struggling I with teach them how I learned growing up “the old way” and for some it makes all the difference and for others they need a different way. Anyways, great info-graphic, short and to the point.


    • Thank you for your comment! My issue with high school math is that many of the classes are geared toward learning the ultimate course, Calculus. That should NOT be the goal, but to be able to learn and use everyday math, like Financial Math, or Statistics/Probability. A larger proportion of students would use these courses in their life than Advanced Algebra/Calculus. STEM is a great component, but it has dominated to the point of thinking ALL students need to learn content leading to Calculus. Yeah, there is some benefit to “drill and kill” math. That’s how I learned! 🙂


      • I think it would be amazing to see math classes that are for specific fields or everyday life. I think there are basics that everyone should know, but I have yet to use probably 80% or the math that I learned in high school except to take more college level math. I would love to have really learned about how to use math to run a business or something like that. The education system can become so set in having one way that things are done that it keeps the new ideas and concepts pushed to the side.


  3. Hi Gerald,
    I always enjoy your posts, you are able to articulate the EQ so well. Your concept mapping image was a great example of how math instruction should be. I like that you incorporated the assessment in your road map to learning. This is so important to plan this step early. Great post.



  4. I can really appreciate, and relate to, your honesty about meeting the mark on differentiated instruction. I think, in an ideal world with 48 hours in a day, we’d all love to be the brilliant teacher who reached every student in the best possible way, but it takes real time, work, and effort…and it’s hard. Certainly technology helps, but so does time to plan, a team/department who goes through it with you, and a district that fully supports you via training, etc.

    When I first started teaching, I certainly fell more to the “what differentiation is not” side of things. And, although I put a lot of work in to better my craft, I’m not sure I ever wholly left that side. I think, as Cherie mentioned in her blog, it’s great to think about it in terms of one step at a time. That said, I feel like this course is going to make me miss the K-12 classroom because I’ll want to try all the strategies! 😉

    Great graphic, by the way, it really puts it all in perspective in a very straightforward manner!


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