Differentiating by process involves providing varied opportunities for students to process or make sense of the content being taught.

The process of how the material in a lesson is learned may be differentiated for students based on their learning styles, taking into account what standards of performance are required for the age level. This stage of differentiation allows students to learn based either on what method is easiest for them to acquire knowledge, or what may challenge them most: some students may prefer to read about a topic (or may require practice in reading), and others may prefer to listen (or require practice in listening), or acquire knowledge by manipulating objects associated with the content. Information may be presented in multiple ways by the teacher, and may be based on any available methods or materials. Many teachers use areas of Multiple Intelligences to provide learning opportunities.

Commonalities in the assessment results lead to grouping practices that are planned designed to meet the students’ needs. "How" a teacher plans to deliver the instruction is based on assessment results that show the needs, learning styles, interests, and levels of prior knowledge. The grouping practices must be flexible, as groups will change with regard to the need that will be addressed. Regardless of whether the differentiation of instruction is based upon student readiness, interests, or needs, the dynamic flow of grouping and regrouping is one of the foundations of differentiated instruction. It is important for a differentiated classroom to allow some students to work alone, if this is their best modality for a particular task. (Nunley, 2004)

Differentiating by process refers to how a student comes to understand and assimilate facts, concepts and skills (Anderson, 2007). After teaching a lesson, a teacher might break students into small “ability” groups based on their readiness. The teacher would then give each group a series of questions, based on each group's appropriate level of readiness-skills, related to the objectives of the lesson. Another way to group the students could be based on the students’ learning styles. The main idea behind this is that students are at different levels and learn in different ways, so a teacher can’t teach them all the same way.

Examples of this are providing opportunities to work alone, in pairs or in small groups; assigning group roles when in small groups; roles in literature circles; varied journal prompts, a choice of review activities; supportive technology; the amount or kind of teacher help available; various types of graphic organizers and supporting documents (vocabulary, formulas, key dates, etc.); homework options (ie "Do this section if you need more practice on..." or "Do this section if you feel ready for a challenge")

Situations When we Differentiate by Process.

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

Approaches to Differentiating by Process

The ways/methods in which our students learn information and concepts

Process By Interest

When differentiation process based on a student's interest, there are multiple tools you can utilize including:
Definitions from: Integrate to Differentiate
  • Surveying Student Interest - consider using an interest survey to determine student interest. Brainstorming for subtopics within a curriculum concept and using semantic webbing to explore interesting facets of the concept is another effective tool. This is also an effective way of teaching students how to focus on a manageable subtopic. Programs like Kidspiration, Inspiration, and Mindmanager can be used to help guide students as they explore a concept and focus on manageable and personally interesting subtopics.
  • Assignment Choice
  • Choice Boards - Choice boards are organizers that contain a variety of activities. Students can choose one or several activities to complete as they learn a skill or develop a product. Choice boards can be organized so that students are required to choose options that focus on several different skills
  • 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.
  • 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.

Practical Examples

From: Differentiation Basics, HCPS Staff Development 2006 Powerpoint

Science/Physics: Learning Objective: Newton's Laws
General Topic:
Newton's Laws of Physics
Survey Interests:
Ask students about what interests them
Utilize Student Interest
to Explain/Explore Topic:
If a student is really into sports, an example of differentiating by process would be explain how Newton's Laws govern the actions of your favorite sport

Process By Readiness

When differentiation process based on a student's readiness, there are multiple tools you can utilize including:
Definitions from: Integrate to Differentiate
  • Assessing & Grouping (Pretest, Analyze Student Work, Student Self Assessment)
  • Tiered Assignments, Lessons and Strategies - Assignments, activities, products, etc. are designed to instruct and assess students on essential skills that are provided at different levels of complexity, abstractness, and open-endedness. The curricular content and objective(s) are the same, but the process and/or product are varied according to the student's level of readiness
  • Questioning Technique - During large group discussion activities, teachers direct the higher level questions to the students who can handle them and adjust questions accordingly for student with greater needs. All students are answering important questions that require them to think but the questions are targeted towards the student’s ability or readiness level.
  • 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
  • Anchor Activities - Ongoing assignments that students can work on independently throughout a unit, a grading period, or longer.

Practical Examples

From: Differentiation Basics, HCPS Staff Development 2006 Powerpoint

Spanish Class: Learning Objective: Directions

Readiness Benchmark
Student is able to give simple commands such as stop, go, left, right
New Skill:
Exercise 2, Page 45
Then Try It:
Using oral directions in Spanish, lead another student to an object or place in the room blindfolded
Student is able to understand basic terms such as forward, backward, right, left
New Skill:
Exercise 4, Page 47
Then Apply It:
Write directions from the school to your house in Spanish
High Degree
Student has mastery of terms such as turning, crossing, across
Real World Application:
Redo a school map for Spanish speaking students. Include a written guide that provides verbal directions to the most common places in the school.

Process By Learning Profile

When differentiation process based on a student's learning style, there are multiple tools you can utilize including:
Definitions from: Integrate to Differentiate
  • Assessing & Grouping (Pretest, Analyze Student Work, Student Self Assessments)
  • Varied Approaches
    • Organizing Ideas - teach students different ways they can organize their thinking so they can make sense of ideas, communicate clearly, and retain and retrieve information. Encourage students to select from strategies such as summarizing, mind-mapping, concept mapping, storyboarding, or outlining. Once students understand the different approaches they are very likely to favor modes that support their learning profile.
    • Homework
    • Journal Prompts
    • Questioning Strategies
    • Supplemental Materials
    • Teacher Presentation
    • Varied Texts
    • Varying Organizers
  • Choice Boards - Choice boards are organizers that contain a variety of activities. Students can choose one or several activities to complete as they learn a skill or develop a product. Choice boards can be organized so that students are required to choose options that focus on several different skills
  • Flexible Learning Environment - according to Tomlinson and Winebrenner examples of differentiated learning environments and at the elementary level includes providing places in the room to work quietly and without distraction, as well as places that invite student collaboration; providing materials that reflect a variety of cultures and home settings; establishing clear guidelines for independent work that matches individual needs;developing routines that allow students to get help when teachers are busy with other students and cannot help them immediately; helping students understand that some learners need to move around to learn, while others do better sitting quietly
  • Part to Whole Explanations - An instructional approach in which objectives are presented to learners beginning with parts of the curriculum, then relationships between the parts are presented, and finally learners can incorporate the parts as a whole.
  • Multiple Intelligences - Based on Gardner's theory that all people possess nine intelligences in varying degrees, we strive to improve learning for our students by addressing their multiple intelligences. Use the following links to learn more:
    • **Concept to Classroom Online Workshop** - an excellent (free) online workshop that really delves into Gardner's Multiple Intelligences and how they can be used to improve learning in your classroom
    • Surfquarium - access the numerous Multiple Intelligence resources and read the information available at this site if you are interested in implementing and using the multiple intelligences in your classroom.
    • The Styles section of this site also features inventories and information about Garner's Multiple Intelligences

Practical Examples

At the beginning of Choice Boards, students should be presented with what they need to know, understand, and be able to do. This will allow them to make the best choice.
Think Tac Toe
In a Middle School Math class, students must chose 3 out of 12 given activities as to how they are going to practice the pythagorean Theorem. The sheet given them is in tic-tac-toe style and they need to complete a straight line.
Choice Board
In a Middle School English class, at the beginning of the book they are given a sheet with a choice of several activities: obituary for a character, an absentee note from a character, create a podcast dialogue between you and a character, personification poem, create a glogster showing..., etc. Cut the book into section (Example Chapter 1-4, 5-7, 8-12 etc. and ask students to choose an activity at the end of each chapter. They cannot repeat the same activity.

Other Tools and Examples of ways to Differentiate by Process

Definitions from: Integrate to Differentiate
  • Flexible Grouping - Flexible grouping allows students to be appropriately challenged and avoids labeling a student's readiness as static. Students should not be be kept in a static group for any particular subjects as their learning will probably accelerate from time to time. As student performance will vary it is important to permit movement between groups. Student’s readiness varies depending on personal talents and interests, so we must remain open to the concept that a student may be below grade level in one subject at the same time as being above grade level in another subject.

  • 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?
  • 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:
  • Cubing - a strategy to help students think about a topic or idea from many different angles. Use the sample I created below as a tool to help students think differently in a fun way (or use the blank version to create your own cube activity):