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Volume 27, Number 3
May/June 2011

Differentiated Instruction Reexamined

Teachers weigh the value of multiple lessons


A student presents results from a group research project as part of a new effort to differentiate instruction at Woodstock (VT) Union High School

Last year, when Sherryl Hauser, a third-year math teacher, had to plan a project to develop her teaching, it was an easy choice: differentiated instruction. “One of the reasons I picked differentiating is that I kept trying it and it kept failing,” she says.

It wasn’t as if she didn’t understand the concept. Hauser had coauthored an article, “Constructing Complexity for Differentiated Learning,” in the August 2009 issue of Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School. But in going from preservice grad student to full-time teacher at Sage Park Middle School in Windsor, Conn., Hauser saw a gap between theory and practice.

Suddenly, “tiering”—or varying the difficulty of work for students based on readiness—had a twist: Kids didn’t like it when a classmate’s paper looked a lot different or had more problems on it. As she tried flexible grouping, students who seemed to need extra support actually “got it,” while those expected to glide would struggle. As Hauser put it in her write-up, “I quickly discovered that my assumptions were not always accurate.”

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST)

F. Coffield, D. Moseley, E. Hall, and K. Ecclestone. Should We Be Using Learning Styles? What Research Has to Say to Practice. London: Learning Skills & Research Center, 2004.

C.A. Little, S. Hauser, and J. Corbishley. “Constructing Complexity for Differentiated Learning.” Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School 15, no. 1 (2009): 34–42.

H. Pashler, M. McDaniel, D. Rohrer, and R. Bjork. “Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence.” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 9, no. 3 (2008): 105–119.

M. Schmoker. “When Pedagogic Fads Trump Priorities.” Education Week 30, no. 5 (2010): 22–23.