D I F F E R E N T I A T I O N

A proactive response to diverse learners in a single classroom.

In Okemos, academically talented students are placed in regular, mixed-ability classrooms (with the exception of advanced courses in grades 6-12).  This requires an appropriately differentiated curriculum designed to address the unique individual characteristics, needs and abilities of gifted learners.  As described by Sandra Berger in her article Differentiating Gifted Students in the Mixed-Ability Classroom (1996), "...it is difficult to generalize about students who are gifted because their characteristics and needs are so personal and unique. However, as a group they comprehend complex ideas quickly, learn more rapidly and in greater depth than their age peers, and may exhibit interests that differ from those of their peers. They need time for in-depth exploration, they manipulate ideas and draw generalizations about seemingly unconnected concepts, and they ask provocative questions."  Our gifted education consultant and program coordinator support teachers to design an effectively differentiated program that builds on these characteristics by adapting what students learn, how they learn it, and/or how they demonstrate their learning.  

The following information describes the concept of differentiating for gifted learners within the Okemos Public Schools.

Differentiation defined

Differentiation provides an opportunity for students to benefit from a variety of learning tools that will maximize their potential.  High-ability students, in particular, benefit from techniques that provide a flexible atmosphere regarding pace, level of complexity and appropriate peer interaction.

Differentiated instruction "provides different avenues to acquiring content, to processing or making sense of ideas and to developing products so that each student can learn effectively." (Tomlinson, 2001)


Differentiation does.....

  • Set high expectations for all students
  • Permit students to show mastery of material and then to progress at their own pace through new material
  • Provide multi-tiered assignments, within a unit, tailored to different achievement levels
  • Encourage high levels of critical thinking through thoughtful class assignments
  • Assign activities geared to different learning styles, interests and levels of thinking
  • Provide students with peer interaction among students of similar interests and abilities
  • Give teachers the flexibility to move students in and out of groups based on student needs

Differentiation does not.....

  • Provide an individual lesson plan for each student
  • Assign more work at the same level to high-ability students
  • Give all students the same work all of the time
  • Happen all the time as students often work together as a class
  • Have students teaching mastered material to students who have not mastered the material
  • Group students into cooperative learning groups that do not provide for student accountability or focus on new material

Methodology

  • Provide teacher training and foster a professional learning community
  • Develop multi-tiered lessons
  • Assess student abilities appropriately
  • Create flexible groupings of students
  • Implement differentiated units
  • Evaluate student response

Successful differentiation.....

  • Enables the classroom teacher to structure effective lessons with greater ease and more impact
  • Creates learning environments that engage and excite students
  • Allows students to realize their academic potential

Why differentiate?

For our students:

  • To promote growth and learning by providing materials aimed above the student's tested level.
  • To encourage using creative and critical thinking skills together
  • To encourage developing a depth of understanding within a topic
  • To provide both required and optional activities allowing students to explore topics of interest to them

For our district:

  • To provide another teaching strategy that has the potential to meet the needs of all students in
    a mixed-ability classroom
  • To support the district's large population of high academic ability students in all subject areas
  • To maximize the efficient use of district staff and funding