#diffimooc Week 1: What is DI?

In Chapter One of How to Differentiate instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms (Tomlinson 2001) many key points were made. The points that interested me the most were differentiated instruction involves ongoing assessment, flexible grouping, and students and teachers learning together.


I believe it is important for students and teachers to learn together, as this shows an equal commitment between the two. I further believe students appreciate, respect and value teachers who can share in learning with them. As stated by Tomlinson (2001), “In a differentiated classroom, teaching is evolutionary. Students and teachers are learners together (p.5).” There are many things that we can learn from our students and many things students can learn from each other.


Assessment is a big part of education and it’s important to remember in a differentiated classroom it needs to be continual. According to Robb (2002), assessments help identify students’ strengths and areas of need so teachers can meet the educational needs of their students.


In a differentiated classroom grouping needs to be flexible. Students enjoy collaborating and creating with their peers and it’s important that the grouping of students changes as needed. As stated by Tomlinson (2000), “Flexible grouping allows students to see themselves in a variety of contexts.” Flexible grouping allows students to work with a variety of ability levels and skills. Allowing students to work with a variety of peers this allows them an opportunity to develop a larger variety of skills, instead of completing the same task repetitively in the same group. As the groups overall skills change, so do the expectations of each individual.



Robb, L. (n.d.). What is differentiated instruction? Retrieved from http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/what-differentiated-instruction

Smith, G. E., & Throne, S. (2009). Differentiating instruction with technology in middle school classrooms. International Society for Technology in Education.

Tomlinson, C. A. (2000). What makes differentiated instruction successful? Retrieved from http://www.readingrockets.org/article/what-makes-differentiated-instruction-successful

Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms.



7 thoughts on “#diffimooc Week 1: What is DI?

  1. The readings this week really got me thinking about the importance of students and teachers sharing the responsibilities of learning. I don’t think that I am giving my students in my class enough ownership of their learning. The reading this week has really make me think about ways to give students more control over their learning. Now I just have to think about what that will look like in a classroom of 24 2nd grade students. Also, like you mentioned, the flexible grouping is so important. I have been looking at my pre-assessments for a math unit and I am trying to figure out how to best serve my students based on their needs and use flexible grouping. After reading your blog, I have thought more about the importance of letting some of my control go and handing it over to my students.

    • When I taught 3rd grade I liked to give them time to share how they solved a problem or their answer to a question with the whole class, to show there are many ways to solve a problem. I would do this in whole group, with partners or groups depending on the activity. I tried to give my student as much time as I could to share and process their thinking out loud to someone else in class. Elementary students love to share.

      • I agree. Anytime my students do whole group work. They are constantly being asked to turn and talk to their partner or group to discuss the question and their answer. I love how our math lessons go. We complete the problem together, then I have students do it with a partner or group. I find that more outside the box thinking occurs (I do, we do, you do). We collaborate on many different ways to find the problem and then I have them work independently while assessing the whole time. Once students need extra support, I pull them instantly and constantly access. I like your info graphic. It’s very easy to look at and check to make sure the DI “is” part is being done in the class.

  2. What I liked about your infographic (and blog post) is the emphasis on flexible grouping. I kind of complained about homogeneous grouping in my post, yet that is how I’m supposed to group students so that I can differentiate content. As Tomlinson noted, those groups tend to stick and carry over into other activities. I have tried using like-ability groups as the basis of a group-based seating chart–it was a horrible idea! It did not work. What does work is when I arrange students based on my knowledge of their skills, abilities, and personalities. While my groupings have a wide range of skill levels, they contain students whose skills and personalities complement each other and work well together. Hooray for flexible grouping!

  3. Honestly, I’m new to the exact idea of differentiation, as in this is what it is, this is what it isn’t. The idea of grouping is something I think most teachers just do naturally through group projects and partner work. In my US History class, my freshmen do small group, whole class, and individualized work and last week we talked about the differences of why we do these types of groups. They can bounce ideas off of each other in group work, as a whole class we can really dive deep into discussion, and then they can put their thoughts while working individually. It was like a light came on in their heads that it made sense to why teachers do this and in the last week the discussions have been so much better. Also, the part about learning with the students, I totally agree with. I teach a variety of secondary classes, not all which are in my field, so there are a lot of times where I’m learning right along with my students and they often times teach me many new things about events in history or concepts in science. It makes them feel smart and is encouraging for them to know they knew something I didn’t.

    In my math classes, when I let them work together, I always group with assorted ability levels. I love being able to see the higher level students help and teacher the lower students. I think teaching a concept is one of the best ways to really learn a skill and this allows for it. I think sticking with same ability grouping doesn’t really allow those students who struggle to move forward because they are always working with students who are struggling and they may not be getting the deeper meaning behind different areas of learning.

  4. I really liked that statement you made about how students respect you more when you share in the learning. I agree. They see you as a person, not just their teacher. They will then tend to share more, knowing that you are similar to them. I also like how you pointed out the importance of flexible grouping, which I see others agree with this as well. This is something that teachers have to constantly look at. Being able to progress monitor and set kids in groups where they can get the most out of working with those students with the same issues or abilities can be highly important. But also realizing that they will not forever be the same, we have to constantly be adjusting and changing groups. You don’t have to always stick with same ability, you set up the groups with a mentoring model, or to focus on an area of struggle, or whatever suits the situation and the students. That is what differentiation is all about.

  5. Ali, I agree with you that Easel.ly is not easy at all! Ugh. Not only is it limited in what it offers but it’s not pleasant to use. I like canva myself: https://www.canva.com/ and I was a long time user of piktochart but it got too pricey to get all the good features: http://piktochart.com/ You’ve also got: http://vizualize.me/ , http://visual.ly/, and https://venngage.com/ (but venngage is a lot like Easel.ly and both expensive and a disappointment). So, those are some infographic tools…

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