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Over the years, the concept of differentiation has become synonymous with a definition of academic challenge for students to meet their learning needs and acquire a year’s worth of growth. Traditionally, the introduction of new, different or sophisticated topics of study, the emphasis on higher-level thinking skills, more difficult work or changes in the rate of learning have been the attributes of a differentiated or challenging curriculum for advanced learners.

Teachers looking to differentiate can do so easily by making modifications in content, processes, and products in order to accommodate the curriculum for students’ varied needs. A differentiated curricular experience or task is a result of the interactions of these basic elements. It is important to recognize that the relationship between the elements that form a differentiated task must be worth of the student’s effort and time, and significant to the student’s education.

Principles of Differentiation

Differentiation of curriculum is dependent on this set of principles.

1. Differentiation is based on the core or basic curriculum.

2. Differentiation is affected by the dimensions of depth, complexity, novelty, and acceleration. The ideas defining these dimensions of differentiation were introduced in Differentiating the Core Curriculum and Instruction to Provide Advanced Learning Opportunities, a publication jointly produced in 1994 by the California Department of Education and the California Association for the Gifted.

3. Differentiation should be an integral part of rather than an adjunct to the core curriculum.

4. Differentiation modifies what students will know (content), how students will think (critical, creative, and problem-solving skills or processes), how students will access and use resources (research skills) and how students will summarize and share their learning (products).

5. Differentiation should be available to gifted and advanced students as well as any other students who evidence a readiness for the same experience.

6. Differentiation can be facilitated through flexible grouping and regrouping of students for each task or group of tasks based on need, interest, and ability.

7. Differentiation should be provided consistently and should be accompanied by high standards of performance.

8. Differentiation must include teacher instruction and should not be assumed to be self-taught by students.

The video below asks teachers to think about the ways they can differentiate student learning via task statements.