Effortless Differentiation Strategies for Content, Process and Product
Differentiation means giving students different avenues to master new content and skills. When you differentiate instruction, you make sure all students within one classroom can learn effectively, regardless of differences in ability or learning style.
There are three areas of differentiation in the classroom: Content; process; and product. ‘Content’ is what information or skill you want students to learn. ‘Process’ is how students learn the material. ‘Product’ is how students show mastery or prove they have learned the new information or skill.
‘Differentiating content’ means differentiating by interest. While you have to teach a specific skill or piece of information, you can do so through different types of content that hook student interest. You can do this in two main ways. You can hook all students’ interests with a video clip or other multimedia modality. You can also hook individual student interest by taking a survey of their interests, hobbies and career goals. Begin differentiating your own content by adapting the following examples:
- Replace a typical mini-lesson or lecture with an engaging TedEd video that introduces and gives examples of the new concept, skill or task.
- Create and display a visual illustration of new concepts, skills, information, and processes.
- Instead of reading literature or an informational text, show a short film clip from a popular movie or historical documentary.
- Spice up a boring worksheet by including student names, interests and personality traits.
- Instead of a tedious homework assignment, ask students to research, read about, describe, answer hypothetical math and science questions, or apply other academic skills to write about favorite celebrities, pop culture fads, urban legends, or wildest dreams.
- Instead of a traditional short response, formative assessment or exit slip, have students illustrate a social media post or tweet to show what they learned in class.
Incorporating video clips, pictures, comics, pop culture, student’s names and student interest surveys into daily instruction, will improve overall student engagement and classroom management, especially for students with disabilities, ADHD, and behavioral concerns.
‘Differentiating process’ simply means varying the rigor or difficulty level of the work. While you need every student to learn the same information or skill, you can make this process easier through some of the following instructional changes:
- Allow group work instead of an independent assignment.
- Give students two minutes to “turn-and-talk” with a partner before participating in a whole-class discussion.
- Print an individual copy of the PowerPoint slides for a student who cannot keep up with the pace of a lecture.
- Before a lecture, create a guided notes page with key terms and headers for a student who struggles to take notes.
- Before an independent reading assignment, create a guided notes page with focus questions or writing prompts for a student who struggles with reading comprehension (What is the main idea of each paragraph? Circle the names of new characters. What section or quote best illustrates the theme? etc.).
- Give “prior warning” by letting a student know ahead of time when you will ask them to answer a question or read aloud to the class.
- Provide sentence starters or a step-by-step checklist for a writing assignment.
- Pre-annotate a text by underlining key details and taking note in the margin.
- To review a skill that most students have already mastered, give struggling students step-by-step instructions, word banks or detailed anchor charts from the initial lesson when you first introduced the skill.
- Write the process into questions (For question 1, reference the notes on pg. 12 on how to solve for x; Find paragraph 3, and explain what the dialogue shows regarding the character’s personality).
- Allow students to skip “busy work” and move directly to a challenge question.
When done correctly, differentiating Process does not require creating extra materials. It is often as simple as printing extra copies of the PowerPoint, remembering to give “prior-warning,” always writing step-by-step instructions, and allowing partner work instead of independent work.
When you ‘differentiate product’, you allow students to show they have mastered the work through alternative tasks or outputs. For example, instead of an English or Social Studies essay, students can show mastery through the following tasks:
- Write a creative story
- Illustrate a detailed timeline
- Draw a character map
- Design a comic strip or storyboard
- Record a video tutorial
- Lead a discussion
- Act out a scene
Instead of a Math or Science worksheet, students can show mastery through the following products:
- Song or rap lyrics
- “Teach the class” group project
- Poster board
- Mind map
Differentiated instruction provides tailored ways for students to make sense of new ideas and demonstrate their understanding of these ideas. Once you make differentiation part of your lesson planning process, you will find it is easy to differentiate content, process, and product to effortlessly meet the needs of diverse learners.