Differentiated Instruction Consultant Pete Grande working with principals during an activity

Colonial School District's commitment to "lifelong learning" means that principals were back in the classroom recently for a half-day workshop in best practices relating to "Differentiated Instruction."

What is Differentiated Instruction?

Differentiated Instruction is a student-centered learning model, where teachers create lessons with a variety of starting points to meet students at their different "levels of readiness." The teachers act as facilitators and move around the room to give the students feedback.

For example, if a math lesson focuses on story problems, there might be students who need help comprehending what they read before they can start looking at the math. Those children could begin by working on reading strategies. For another group, the teacher may "scaffold" the math by offering tiered tasks, where students might start with simpler math problems and gradually work up to something more complicated. Another group might understand the story problems quickly and need activities with bigger challenges to stay engaged in the lesson.

With Differentiated Instruction, the teachers use "formative assessments" -- which can include a "ticket out" (a quick questionnaire at the end of class), notes they take while observing the students, tests/quizzes or even simply asking the students about their comfort level in a particular area -- to drive the lessons.

A Professional Development Focus

There are new and exciting strategies and assessments continually being developed for teachers to use, so Differentiated Instruction has been a target area of the curriculum department's district-wide professional development for more than a decade. The workshop for administrators was just part of the ongoing effort to keep everyone current with the most effective strategies for the classroom -- and to give principals additional tools to support and encourage the staff in their buildings.

"It's given us a nice structure and framework, as well as a consistent language, that we can use throughout the District," said Dr. Terese Boegly, principal and Colonial Elementary School. "It'll be great to see it grow from here."

In addition to focusing on Differentiated Instruction, professional development for the administrative team has also included strategies for integrating STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) in the District and other leadership initiatives.