Differentiated Learning with Educational Technology

Essential Questions

Why should I differentiate my instruction for my students? Think beyond understanding that students learn differently.
What does meaningful differentiation look like in a real classroom?
Which teaching strategies can I employ to meet my students’ individual needs?
In what ways might I use technology to differentiate my instruction for my students?


Differentiated Learning with Educational Technology

Differentiated instruction is recognizing and being responsive to different learning needs of individuals and small groups of students. The website Differentiation Central offers an excellent flow chart of the process. Access the full website at http://differentiationcentral.com/model/.


The Teaching Channel website offers a series of videos for new teachers. Explore the site’s K12 hub differentiation topics and see if you can identify some specific strategies for differentiating in the classroom.

Tomlinson’s Differentiated Instruction Model (2010) is based on six elements:

  • High-quality curriculum – identifying exactly what you want the students to know, understand, and be able to do at a rigorous and challenging level
  • Continual assessment – using pre-assessments to determine what the students already know, understand and are able to do as well as where their interests lie; using formative assessments to determine when and how re-teaching needs to be done; and using summative assessments to allow students to demonstrate what they have learned
  • Respectful tasks – All tasks should be challenging, interesting and worth doing. If some students are engaged in this type of work while others are completing drill and practice workshop, there is disrespect happening.
  • Building community – The differentiated learning community must be a safe, accepting, risk-free environment where failure and learning from it is celebrated. Therefore, it is necessary for the teacher to insure that all learners understand and respect the process of differentiating instruction.
  • Flexible grouping – At any given time, students may work individually, as a whole group, or in small groups or with a partner based on interests (similar or dissimilar) or readiness to learn (similar or dissimilar).
  • Teaching up – Tomlinson (2010) notes that all students should be challenged to work up to the level just above his or her current competence. Differentiation is NOT about “dumbing down” the content for some students but not for others.

The Differentiated Instruction Teachers’ Guide (2007) offers four areas where differentiation can occur:

  • Content – All students in your class will be expected to master the given curriculum standards (Oklahoma Content Standards, currently–used to be CCSS, PASS), but you can provide them different paths to gaining that knowledge. A pre-assessment is critical to determine what current knowledge and skill have already been mastered by individuals so the teacher can then determine which paths need to be made available.
  • Process – Different methods can be employed based on the idea that how students learn best can be different. Many teachers use a “menu” of activities for students to choose the process they believe will work best for them.
  • Products – Each student needs to demonstrate mastery of a standard or objective, but they may be able to demonstrate that mastery in a very different way than their classmates. A very clear summative assessment tool, like a rubric focused on what the student knows, understands and is able to do, is critical.
  • Learning Environment – The learning environment in a differentiated classroom includes both physical and social/emotional aspects. The physical space may include adjustments to lighting, noise, types of furniture, and equipment. The social/emotional environment must be built upon respect for individual differences and supportive classroom management.

Judith Dodge (2009, p. 9, http://www.slideshare.net/robertojosephgalvan/25-quickformativeassessments) offers specific strategies to help teachers address student needs at different levels of readiness. Which of these suggestions could you consider?

Scaffolding Struggling Learners

  • Offer teacher direction (reteaching with a different method)
  • Allow the student to work with a reading partner, study buddy, or learning partner. (Buddy-up an English language learner (ELL) with another student.) This will provide peer support for collaborative learning.
  • Allow students to use class notes, textbooks, and/or other classroom resources to complete the task.
  • Provide a model or exemplar (of a similar problem solved or a sample of the type of writing expected).
  • Furnish step-by-step directions; break down the task.
  • Provide hints or tips.
  • Color-code different elements; highlight for focusing; provide “masks and markers” for focused attention on specific text.
  • Provide sentence strips, sticky labels with terms, or manipulatives (plastic coins, Judy clocks, Unifix cubes, fraction tiles, number lines, algebraic tiles, calculators, etc.).
  • Provide a partially completed graphic organizer or outline.
  • Provide out-of-sequence steps for students to reorganize.
  • Allow additional time.
  • Provide a cloze (fill-in-the-blank) paragraph (with or without a word box) for students whose language is extremely limited or for those who struggle with grapho-motor skills.
  • Give a framed paragraph or essay (with sentence starters to help organize the writing).
  • Provide guided questions.
  • Supply a word bank and definitions.
  • Support with visuals, diagrams, or pictures.
  • Provide words on labels for students to simply pull off and place appropriately.

Challenging Advanced Learners

  • Design activities that are more complex, abstract, independent, and/or multistep.
  • Pose a challenge question or task that requires them to think beyond the concrete and obvious response (from the newly learned material) to more abstract ideas and new use of the information.
  • Require more complex expression of ideas: different types of sentences, synonyms, more than one adjective or action (verb) to describe what’s happening.
  • Require that metaphors and similes, idiomatic expressions, or specific literary elements be included in their writing.
  • Ask students to make text-to-text and text-to-world connections (more abstract than text-to-self connections).
  • Require students to note relationships and point out connections among ideas: compare and contrast; cause and effect; problem and solution; sequence, steps, or change over time; advantages and disadvantages; benefits; etc.
  • Have students create their own pattern, graph, experiment, word problem, scenario, story, poem, etc.
  • Ask students to tell the story from a different point of view.
  • Ask students to place themselves into the story or time period and write from the first-person point of view.
  • Ask students to consider “What if?” scenarios
  • Provide multistep math problems.
  • Include distracters.
  • Do not provide a visual prompt.
  • Ask students to suggest tips or hints that would help others who struggle to make sense of the information.
  • Provide a problem or model that does not work; have students problem-solve.
  • Have students use the information in a completely new way (Design an awareness campaign about . . .; Create a flyer to inform . . .; Write/give a speech to convince . . .; Write an article to educate . . .; Write an ad to warn others about . . .; Design a program to solve the problem of . . .)

Technology in the classroom is crucial to the success of a differentiated classroom. Read the Educational Leadership article “From Gadget to Gift” and watch the video interview with Carol Ann Tomlinson to get some ideas.


Now see if some of the videos from the Differentiation Central website can help you bring it all together.

ISTE Standards

Which ISTE Standards do you think this chapter could help you address? The standards listed below are from an older draft, but they are still a good way to think about and scope your work.

2. Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assessments

  • Teachers design, develop, and evaluate authentic learning experiences and assessment incorporating contemporary tools and resources to maximize content learning in context and to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes identified in the ISTE·S.
    • a. Design or adapt relevant learning experiences that incorporate digital tools and resources to promote student learning and creativity
    • b. Develop technology-enriched learning environments that enable all students to pursue their individual curiosities and become active participants in setting their own educational goals, managing their own learning, and assessing their own progress
    • c. Customize and personalize learning activities to address students’ diverse learning styles, working strategies, and abilities using digital tools and resources
    • d. Provide students with multiple and varied formative and summative assessments aligned with content and technology standards and use resulting data to inform learning and teaching

4. Promote and Model Digital Citizenship and Responsibility

  • Teachers understand local and global societal issues and responsibilities in an evolving digital culture and exhibit legal and ethical behavior in their professional practices.
    • b. Address the diverse needs of all learners by using learner-centered strategies providing equitable access to appropriate digital tools and resources


Ian Byrd’s The (new) Differentiator http://byrdseed.com/differentiator/
Cool Tools Digital Differentiation http://d97cooltools.blogspot.com.au/2012/02/digital-differentiation-get-wired.html
Andy Warner (UK teacher) blogpost on differentiation http://andywarner78.wordpress.com/2013/05/09/why-weve-got-differentiation-wrong/
Ministry of Education. (2007). Differentiated instruction teacher’s guide: Getting to the core of teaching and learning. Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.
Tomlinson, C.A. & Imbeau, M.B. (2010). Leading and managing a differentiated classroom. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Cybraryman’s Differentiated Instruction resources http://www.cybraryman.com/differentiated.html
Five Ways Technology in the Classroom is Changing Education http://www.securedgenetworks.com/blog/5-Ways-Technology-in-the-Classroom-is-Changing-EducationA Practical IAGC Pinterest board on Differentiation for Gifted Students https://www.pinterest.com/iagcgifted/differentiation/
Bowie, TX ISD Pinterest board on Differentiation for SPED Students https://www.pinterest.com/bowieisd/sped-differentiation/
Technology Tools for Differentiation http://www.edutopia.org/blog/differentiated-instruction-social-media-tools-john-mccarthy

This resource is no cost at https://open.library.okstate.edu/applicationsofeducationaltechnology/


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Applications of Educational Technology Copyright © 2018 by Dr. Susan Stansberry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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