Differentiating instruction (DI) is a pedagogical approach to managing classroom diversity in which teachers proactively adapt curricula, teaching methods, and products of learning to address individual students' needs in an effort to maximize learning for all (Tomlinson, 2005). DI is rooted in formative assessment, positions teachers and students together as learners, and involves providing choices and different pathways for students. Although teachers can differentiate for many characteristics of students, we differentiate for students' diverse ways of thinking. Our definition of DI in mathematics classrooms is proactively tailoring instruction to students' mathematical thinking while developing a cohesive classroom community (Hackenberg, Creager, & Eker, under review).
In this article, we describe an example of DI involving middle school students from a five-year project funded by the National Science Foundation. In one phase of the project, a classroom teacher and the research team differentiated instruction for a class of 18 seventh-grade students during a 26-day unit on proportional reasoning. This class was for students deemed to be working on grade level, making this article a case of DI in a “typical” seventh-grade classroom. In addition, in our view of DI, listening to and interpreting students' thinking is central, making this article also a case of DI in which paying attention to students' mathematical thinking and developing practices to differentiate instruction are intertwined.
Hackenberg, A. J., Jones, R., & Borowski, R. (2020). Tiering instruction for middle school students. Mathematics Teacher: Learning and Teaching PK-12, 113(2), 124-131.