Differentiated Learning

Components of an Effective Class or Lesson Plan

In the 70’s Madeline Hunter gave us the components of an effective lesson plan. (The Madeline Hunter Model of Mastery Learning – 8 Components of an Effective Lesson Plan) After being a teacher for many years and studying how teachers teach as well as how students learn best, she developed a template for making an effective lesson plan.  Those same components hold true today with the addition of Differentiated Learning.


What is Differentiated Learning?

Differentiated Learning is a word whose meaning has evolved over the last twenty years.  It has broadened to the point where it now speaks to the use of three best practices in education:

  1. Learning Styles
  2. Differentiation
  3. Multiple Intelligences.

First, we need to be aware that while our students have learning strengths in different areas, we tend to teach to our own learning style.  Therefore, we need to make a conscientious effort when planning to incorporate activities and teaching strategies that teach to all learning styles (auditory, visual and kinesthetic).  Second, we need to be aware that our students do not come to us with the same background knowledge, content knowledge or abilities.  This is where Differentiated Instruction comes in.  As teachers, we can differentiate the content, process and/or product for our students in order to help them demonstrate their understanding in ways that most appeal to them. This practice plays to student motivation, helping them to feel “in charge” of their own learning, thereby enhancing the probability that they will be able to reach their own unique potential.  Finally, we all have different strengths in our intelligence.  Howard Gardner has identified eight intelligences that he refers to as Multiple Intelligences.  His research does not focus on what we teach our students, although it has implications for how we teach them.  His research indicates that all people are born with or develop areas of strength which we possess from very early in our lives and which tends to be a preferred way of learning and interacting with the world.  If we allow students to show us what they know in a variety of ways, more students will be successful.  For example, if I have well-developed spatial intelligence, but I am only asked to show you my knowledge through essays, you may never see fully what I understand about the topic at hand.  Giving students an opportunity to engage in activities and/or complete assignments in a variety of formats ensures that we are giving them an opportunity to show us what they know.  Each of these components of Differentiated Learning is explained in more detail below.

What are Learning Styles?

Learning Styles – Teaching to all of the Senses:  Auditory, Visual and Kinesthetic (Tactile).  In order to teach to of the all senses, we first have to acknowledge that we all learn differently.  Some learn best when we show them what we are talking about (visual learners), some learn best when we tell them what we want them to learn (auditory learners) while others learn best when given an opportunity for hands on, authentic learning (kinesthetic leaners).  It is important to note that simply because a student may tend to prefer one learning style over another does not mean that s/he can learn exclusively when that particular learning style is emphasized. Human beings are much more complex. In order to reach all learners, we must keep learning styles in mind as we develop lesson plans, so that we deliver the material in a variety of formats.  For example, a lesson that reaches all students’ learning styles would incorporate one or more learning activities from each style.  Here is an example that covers all three:

What is Differentiation?

Differentiation – Differentiating Product, Process and Content According to Student Needs

Some of you may already be thinking that, “I understand that for Pk-12 students, but this is college.  There are standards set by my school, accreditation agency and/or myself that students must meet.”  Yes that is true, but differentiating helps struggling students reach those minimum requirements and helps those that can go further reach their own unique potential as well.  You will still set the minimum requirements for your class, you will just teach in a way that helps all students meet their potential.

  • Content: Students are presented with content at their level or in there area of interest
  • Process:  How we teach the students using differentiated instruction at their level
  • Product:  Giving students choices in activities and assignments that allow them to show you what they have learned at their level


Differentiated Instruction is giving students multiple options for learning the information, making sense of ideas, and expressing what they learn. “A differentiated classroom provides different avenues to acquiring content, to processing or making sense of the ideas, and to develop products so that each student can learn effectively” (Tomlinson, Carol)


What are Multiple Intelligences?

Howard Gardner, the man responsible for this body of knowledge, says it best:  “On the basis of research in several disciplines, including the study of how human capacities are represented in the brain, I developed the idea that each of us has a number of relatively independent mental faculties, which can be termed our “multiple intelligences.” The basic idea is simplicity itself. A belief in a single intelligence assumes that we have one central, all-purpose computer—and it determines how well we perform in every sector of life. In contrast, a belief in multiple intelligences assumes that we have a number of relatively autonomous computers—one that computes linguistic information, another spatial information, another musical information, another information about other people, and so on. I estimate that human beings have 7 to 10 distinct intelligences (see www.multipleintelligencesoasis.org).”

So, if we have multiple intelligences and we are all unique, would it not follow that we, and in particular our students, have strengths and weaknesses among these intelligences?  Also, if we think about how we typically have students demonstrate to us their understanding and application of content we will find that we almost exclusively require them to use verbal-linguistic or mathematical-logical (only 2 of the 8).  What happens to the students who have low intelligence in one or both of these areas?  They typically do not do well in school.  By examining all 8 intelligences, might we not be able to create activities and assessments that allow students with high intelligence in one of the other 6 areas be able to shine in a way they have not before?  The 8 Multiple Intelligences that Gardner proposed are Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, Logical-Mathematical, Naturalist, Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Linguistic, Musical.