Story From The Field

“Can You Spot the Differentiation?”

Differentiation is key to engagement and learning in the classroom, but how do we know our strategies are effective?

How To Guide

"Can You Spot the Differentiation?”

Implemented by
Profile heather 2015

Heather B

Based on Ideas by

Heather B

Inspired by the Experiences of

Jami S

Differentiation is key to engagement and learning in the classroom, but how do we know our strategies are effective?

What You'll Need

Effort Hours Days Weeks Months

- A video camera or smartphone - Something (or someone) to hold the camera and film the lesson. - Video editing option (Microsoft Movie Maker, iMovie, YouTube Video Editor)

How To


Recruit teachers of “mainstreamed” learners to film a short segment of classroom instruction. Recruit potential participants by engaging teachers in conversations around planning for their lessons. What misconceptions or difficulties do they anticipate students will have during the upcoming lesson? What differentiations could they plan in advance to address these anticipated difficulties? Initially Byington had difficulty recruiting teachers to participate. This situation was dramatically changed when she engaged teachers in discussions around their planning and asked them to make predictions about student misconceptions based on their experience and expertise. “Teachers felt more comfortable when they had the opportunity to discuss the differentiation with me before implementing and filming the lesson.” ~Heather Byington.


View the video with an instructional coach or colleagues. Observe and note student engagement and quantity and quality of student responses. Identify areas in the lesson where support strategies could be embedded to more fully engage and increase responses from all learners. For example,a teacher might identify strategies to make content more comprehensible such as using visuals, kinesthetic movements, and graphic organizers. A teacher may also identify strategies to facilitate student interaction, such as think/pair/share, numbered heads together, and group discussion roles. Patti, a 4th grade teacher, introduced her class to multiples of six through song. As they sang, students counted on their fingers. Patti observed that more students were engaged in the lesson and students reported that the song made it easier to recall the multiples of six. Byington immediately saw a need for a shift in her original recipe. The recipe called for teachers to teach a lesson with no differentiation, to reflect on that lesson, then to design and teach a new lesson implementing strategies for differentiation. This was difficult and unnatural for the teachers because it created a situation in which students were struggling. This was something that the teachers could not allow to continue for an entire lesson.


Plan another lesson segment no longer than 15 minutes with the same structure but different content. This time plan for support strategies embedded in the lesson. Teach and film the new lesson segment that includes support strategies for differentiation. The shift in the original recipe created an environment that was more in line with the natural evolution of a lesson. The teacher taught the first part of the lesson with no differentiation; however, in the second half of the lesson the teacher would begin to implement differentiation strategies in order to measure their effect on engagement and learning.


Reflect with colleagues on the impact on student engagement and quantity and quality of responses when support strategies for differentiation are included in the lesson. Byington believes that her recipe would make for extraordinary professional development, particularly for less experienced teachers who may need help anticipating problems. She believes this model may also work well in co-teaching situations, giving the teachers an opportunity to co-plan and to have rich discussion around teaching and learning through peer coaching.


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