Introduction


Content differentiation involves varying what we teach or how students gain access to that content.

For example, teachers can provide students with leveled reading material, books on tape, highlighted text, varied topics for research, independent study options, interest centers, optional minilessons on a specific topic or skill, online extension activities, mentors or a compacted curriculum.

The content of lessons may be differentiated based on what students already know. The most basic content of a lesson should cover the standards of learning set by the district or state. Some students in a class may be completely unfamiliar with the concepts in a lesson, some students may have partial mastery of the content - or display mistaken ideas about the content, and some students may show mastery of the content before the lesson begins. The teacher may differentiate the content by designing activities for groups of students that cover different areas of Bloom's Taxonomy. For example, students who are unfamiliar with the concepts may be required to complete tasks on the lower levels of Bloom's Taxonomy: knowledge, comprehension, and application. Students with partial mastery may be asked to complete tasks in the application, analysis and evaluation areas, and students who have high levels of mastery may be asked to complete tasks in evaluation and synthesis.

When a teacher differentiates content they may adapt what they want the students to learn or how the students will gain access to the knowledge, understanding and skills (Anderson, 2007). Educators are not varying student objectives or lowering performance standards for students. They use different texts, novels or short stories at a reading level appropriate for each individual student. Teachers can use flexible groups and have students assigned to alike groups listening to books on tape or specific internet sources. Students could have a choice to work in pairs, groups or individually, but all students are working towards the same standards and objectives.

Situations when we Differentiate by Content


  • Differentiating by content involves addressing the same concepts but adjusting the degree of complexity based on the student's interest, readiness, or learning style.
  • The actual content is only changed/modified when there is an extreme readiness difference to the majority of the class. This is often the case with English Language Learners or students with disabilities.

Questions to Ask Yourself:
  • Look at ATLAS. Where are the students at the beginning, what is their end goal?
  • Look at your students (learning profile, readiness and interest)
  • How are you going to deliver information to get each student to the end goal?
  • Where should Formative Assessments be given?


Approaches to Differentiating by Content


All the skills and content knowledge our students are supposed to learn (learning outcomes and objectives)

Content By Interest



When differentiation content based on a student's interest, there are multiple tools you can utilize including:
Definitions from: Integrate to Differentiate
  • Independent Study - students select topic, set goals and criteria for work, negotiate evaluation plan with teachers and present results to appropriate audience. Independent study provides total flexibility based on students readiness, interest and learning profile.
  • I-Search Reports - "Students research a topic of their own choice, learning to find print sources, internet sources, and human resources. Students read for understanding, applying a variety of strategies to paraphrase, record and organize notes from their various sources. They write their report using a report map, then go through the writing process: first draft, revision, second draft, proofreading, and final draft. They then put the report together complete with visual aids, bibliography and footnotes, table of contents and title page." (Turnbull) Visit Ms. Turnbull's site to see her directions for I-Search reports and the I-Search Reports her students developed (including their student i-journals)
  • Interest Centers/Interest Groups - often used for students to do guided explorations, but independently. Interest centers should be self-explanatory and allow students opportunities to learn more about a topic or play around with a concept. Learning experiences are usually directed toward a specific learner interest. Allowing students to choose a topic can be motivating to them.
  • Open-ended activities - they types of activities are advocated as a way to allow students who are identified as gifted to work in their own interest areas, in their own learning styles, and at their own ability levels.
  • Orbital Studies - short term (3-6 weeks) independent investigations that relate to a particular part of the course curriculum. Student choice is a key element of the studies. The student chooses the topic, designs a work plan, defines the final product and negotiates a grading rubric with the teacher. Students are usually required to present results to class. Orbital Studies can be individual or group investigations and hence, provide much flexibility.
  • Slice of Life - an activity that works well for thematic research projects. Visit Education World to learn how this strategy could be used to help students with time management. Technique can also be used as a "hook" for group assignments. Teacher puts an aspect of a given lesson on the back of each piece of a large cardboard pizza pie. Students or groups research their "piece of the pizza pie" and report back to the class. (Example: Social Studies-Culture..each piece might include topics like economy, clothing, foods, etc.)

Practical Examples


Interest Centers










Content By Readiness


When differentiation content based on a student's readiness, there are multiple tools you can utilize including:
Definitions from: Integrate to Differentiate
  • Assessing & Grouping
  • Book Choices - provide options for students that are suitable to their reading level. Below are several sites that contain databases, book lists and online tools designed to help teachers search for leveled books:
  • Compacting - a content acceleration strategy that enables students to skip parts of the curriculum they have already mastered and move on to more challenging content and activities. It is a three step process:
    1. teacher assesses the student to determine his/her level of knowledge on the material to be studied and determine what he/she still needs to master
    2. teacher create plans for what the student needs to know, and excuse the student from studying what he/she already knows
    3. teacher develops plans for freed-up time to be spent in enriched or accelerated study
  • Enrichment Clusters - students are grouped according to ability for instructional purposes. Enrichment clusters stress student choice and students as producers of useful products
  • Independent Study - students select topic, set goals and criteria for work, negotiate evaluation plan with teachers and present results to appropriate audience. Independent study provides total flexibility based on students readiness, interest and learning profile.
  • KWLH - similar to the KWL chart, this is a teaching technique that helps students activate prior knowledge. It is a group instruction activity developed by Donna Ogle (1986) that serves as a model for active thinking during reading.
    • K - Stands for helping students recall what they KNOW about the subject.
    • W - Stands for helping students determine what they WANT to learn.
    • L - Stands for helping students identify what they LEARN as they read.
    • H - Stands for HOW we can learn more (other sources where additional information on the topic can be found).
  • Learning Centers/Stations - spots where students work on different tasks simultaneous in a classroom and then rotate through them to learn content/skills related to a topic. Students might skip stations if they know the material or some stations might have tasks designed for advanced students only. Learning Centers are stations where students explore a topic but they stand alone. Students don’t need to rotate through several Centers to master the content/skills related to the topic. Centers may have many choices of activities for students to choose from based on their ability, interest and learning profile. Visit the following sites to learn more about learning centers/stations:
  • Learning Contracts - a learning contract is a written agreement between teacher and student that will result in students working independently. The contract helps students to set daily and weekly work goals and develop management skills. It also helps the teacher to keep track of each student’s progress. The actual assignments will vary according to specific student needs

Practical Examples

From: Differentiation Basics, HCPS Staff Development 2006 Powerpoint
Persuasive Essay Assignment - Tiered Assignment
Differentiated Objectives
Outcome/ Performance Indicators
Beginning
Write a cohesive paragraph with main idea and supporting details
Approaching
State a point of view and cite multiple reasons defending that view
High Degree
Expand the quality of the writing by citing multiple credible sources



Content By Learning Profile


When differentiation content based on a student's learning profile, there are multiple tools you can utilize including:

Definitions from: Integrate to Differentiate
  • Book Choices - provide options for students that are suitable to their reading level. Below are several sites that contain databases, book lists and online tools designed to help teachers search for leveled books:
  • Entry Points - Students explore a topic in five ways based on Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory:
    • Narrative entry points utilize a story about the topic
    • Logical-Quantitative entry points use numbers or deductive/scientific approaches to a subject
    • Foundational entry points examine the philosophy and vocabulary related to the topic
    • Aesthetic entry points focus on sensory features of the topic
    • Experiential entry points use a hands on approach to the topic
  • Games to Practice Mastery of Information and Skill - Games supplement other instruction and are used to provide motivating and engaging opportunities for practice after a skill or new information is taught. Games capitalize on the competitive interests of learners and add entertainment value to instruction. (Penn State) I have put together a web resources with numerous interactive games that can be used to supplement all curriculum areas: Intriguingly Interactive Internet Activities
  • Independent Study - students select topic, set goals and criteria for work, negotiate evaluation plan with teachers and present results to appropriate audience. Independent study provides total flexibility based on students readiness, interest and learning profile.
  • Learning Centers/Stations - spots where students work on different tasks simultaneous in a classroom and then rotate through them to learn content/skills related to a topic. Students might skip stations if they know the material or some stations might have tasks designed for advanced students only. Learning Centers are stations where students explore a topic but they stand alone. Students don’t need to rotate through several Centers to master the content/skills related to the topic. Centers may have many choices of activities for students to choose from based on their ability, interest and learning profile. Visit the following sites to learn more about learning centers/stations:
  • Learning Contracts - a learning contract is a written agreement between teacher and student that will result in students working independently. The contract helps students to set daily and weekly work goals and develop management skills. It also helps the teacher to keep track of each student’s progress. The actual assignments will vary according to specific student needs
  • Open-ended activities - they types of activities are advocated as a way to allow students who are identified as gifted to work in their own interest areas, in their own learning styles, and at their own ability levels. Learn more about open-ended activities when you read a study conducted by Nancy B. Hertzog: **Open-Ended Activities: Differentiation through Learner Responses**
  • RAFT assignments - a system to help students understand their role as a writer, the audience they will address, the varied formats for writing, and the expected content.
  • It is an acronym that stands for:
    • Role of the Writer - Who are you as the writer? Are you George Washington? A warrior? A homeless person? An auto mechanic? An endangered animal?
    • Audience - To whom are you writing? Is your audience the general public? A friend? Your teacher? Readers of a newspaper? A local bank?
    • Format - What form will the writing take? Is it a letter? A classified ad? A speech? A poem?
    • Topic + strong Verb - What's the subject or the point of this piece? Is it to persuade a princess to spare your life? To plead for a re-test? To call for stricter regulations on logging?
  • Problem-Based Learning - students take an active role in solving an unclear, complex problem posed by the teacher. Usually the problems are based on real world issues. Students research and define the problem, make a decision about the problem and present the solution so that other's can assess the solutions effectiveness.


Practical Examples

In Social Studies or in a Foreign Language Classroom, students need to learn about different countries.
The following three can be used together to give students the ability to choose the content of their project.
RAFT
allows students to choose a topic they would like to learn about
Learning Contract
allows students to write out their goals & management skills to create the project
Problem-Based Learning
Students solve an unclear complex problem related to social studies
OR
Students define their impressions about the country, research, and then present what is real and about their impressions.

Other Tools/Examples of ways to differentiate by Content


  • Choral Reading/Antiphonal Reading
  • Flip Books
  • Split Journals (Double Entry – Triple Entry)
  • Books on Tape
  • Highlights on Tape
  • Digests/ “Cliff Notes”
  • Notetaking Organizers
  • Varied Texts
  • Varied Supplementary Materials
  • Highlighted Texts
  • Think-Pair-Share/Preview-Midview-Postview