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Differentiation - A Successful Approach for Differently Abled Learners

by on 05/11/2020 4517

Differentiation is the act of tailoring educational instruction to meet the needs of individual students. The four main elements of differentiation are: content, process, product and the learning environment. Differentiation is less of a curriculum model and more of an instructional model whereby children are taught in the way that makes the most sense to them. According to an educational report published in the United States in 2004, “70% of U.S. middle and high school students require differentiated instruction - that is, instruction targeted to their individual strengths and weaknesses”.

The Four Elements of Differentiation

1) Content: What the student needs to learn or how the student will get access to the information.

2) Process: Activities that the student engages in, in order to make sense of, or master the content.

3) Products: Culminating projects that ask the student to rehearse, apply, and extend what he or she has learned in a unit.

4) Learning Environment: The way the classroom works and feels.

In order to create effective individualised learning experiences, teachers provide differentiated instruction to a specific student or a small group. It is important to note that differentiation is not just for special learners - all of us have variances in our readiness to learn. That is to say, we all have a preferred style or a more effective way of learning that may be different from others. Differentiation is not just about making tasks easier or more difficult for the learner. It is about using different learning approaches and support techniques to meet the needs of each individual learner. 

The best part about differentiation is that it’s not hard and it can be fun for both students and teachers! Let’s look at the four aspects and how they can be varied to meet the learning needs of students.


1) Content

1. Use reading materials for different reading levels.

2. Adopt a multisensory approach. Present materials on different media e.g. auditory, visual, etc…

3. Encourage reading buddies.

4. Meet with small groups to re-teach content and to share the thinking and skills of more advanced learners.


2) Process

1. Provide different levels of support while all learners work with the same skills.

2. Develop whole-class and personal agendas. Create task lists that include whole-class tasks and individual tasks for individual learners with set completion times.

3.   Offer manipulatives or other hands-on support.


3) Products

1. Offer students options on how to express required learning (e.g. write an essay, create a PowerPoint presentation or make a puppet show). 


4) Learning Environment

1. Ensure the classroom is set up for both collaboration and more quiet individual work.

2. Provide materials that reflect a variety of cultures and home settings.

3. Develop routines that allow students to help themselves when teachers are busy.

Most of the time, we practice reactive differentiation – if and when a student demonstrates a need for extra attention then we will help. Our goal is to be proactive - where we offer help before our children show signs of struggle. For example, we could provide a vocabulary list or a grammar chart if we know a student needs help with writing before she gets frustrated. Proactive differentiation can be a very powerful and inexpensive tool in the classroom to enhance all students’ learning capacities.

Excerpted from: Tomlinson, C. A. (August, 2000). Differentiation of Instruction in the Elementary Grades. ERIC Digest. ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education.

About Oasis Place

Located right in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, Oasis Place is at the forefront of Malaysia’s educational and developmental intervention services, providing world class, multidisciplinary intervention services to children, adolescents and adults of all abilities and ages. Its core intervention services include psychology, speech and language therapy, sensory integration occupational therapy, music therapy, continuous education and nutrition. The facility is equipped with modern apparatus, resources, therapy materials, assessment tools and much more. Oasis Place also provides continuous education workshops led by numerous international and local speakers to empower parental awareness and professional development, setting a new benchmark in Malaysia’s allied health community.

Kiddy123 would like to express our heartfelt appreciation to Joanne Goh – a school psychologist from Oasis Place for the informative article. For more information on their service, please visit their website at , Facebook at OasisPlaceMalaysia ,Instagram and Twitter @OasisPlaceMY