Differentiated instruction became much more important with the advent of inclusive education.
We now have a very diverse group of students in mainstream classes, including gifted students and others with learning difficulties or disabilities.
Students are actually much more alike than they are different, so adaptations and modifications to curriculum and resources should not be made unless absolutely necessary.
Differentiation can be implemented in a sustainable way by using evidence-based teaching to cover the same curriculum content with all students, but tailoring some of the learning activities to take account of students’ abilities, prior knowledge and basic skills, and then varying the degree of support given to individual students.
Obviously the age of the students is also important because the curriculum needs to be developmentally appropriate.
And at times, when you are teaching specific subject matter, gender, ethnicity and cultural background are also important.Differentiation in inclusive settings should be about providing additional support to pursue the common curriculum―not about creating a multiplicity of individual programs for students.What are the main challenges to differentiated instruction?It is really about taking account of significant differences among students in terms of their ability (or disability), rate of learning, language proficiency, literacy and numeracy skills ― and then using this knowledge to adapt the way the curriculum and learning activities are presented.These differences also determine the amount of additional support individual students may need.The notion that teachers in mainstream classes can adapt to differences in students’ learning style is a myth.Unfortunately this idea is still being circulated, even in official guidelines.There is no reliable evidence that learning styles exist, or that teachers can cater for them even if they did.Taking all these factors into account must be very difficult for teachers. The reason why differentiated teaching is difficult to sustain over time is because it can be extremely hard work unless the purpose and applications are interpreted correctly.There is currently a great deal of confusion in teachers’ minds about what differentiation means in practical terms, and for which students it is required.Some teachers believe that differentiation only applies to students at the extremes of the ability range ― for example, providing enrichment, acceleration and extension activities for gifted students, or designing an Individual Education Plan (IEP) with modified curriculum for intellectually disabled students and those with sensory impairments.