Teaching Opinion

Response: ‘Differentiation Is More Than A Set Of Strategies’

By Larry Ferlazzo — April 21, 2014 3 min read
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(This is the last post in a two-part series on this topic. You can see Part One here)

Tagrid Sihly asked:

What are some ways of differentiating a lesson?

Carol Tomlinson, Donalyn Miller and Jeff Charbonneau contributed responses to Part One in this series.

Today’s post features a response from Kimberly Kappler Hewitt and a number of suggestions from readers.

Response From Kimberly Kappler Hewitt

Dr. Kimberly Kappler Hewitt is an assistant professor of educational leadership at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, consultant, and professional developer. She is the author of Differentiation is an Expectation: A School Leader’s Guide to Building a Culture of Differentiation and the editor of Postcards from the Schoolhouse: Practitioner Scholars Examine Contemporary Issues in Instructional Leadership. She can be reached at kkhewitt@uncg.edu:

Differentiation is far more than a set of strategies to meet the differing needs of students. It is an approach based on certain beliefs about students (e.g., All students are capable and uniquely talented.) and certain values (e.g., leveraging students’ strengths and interests instead of being stuck on students’ deficits). This graphic, by Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson, provides a model for differentiation:

Retrieved from Differentiation Central; Copyright, 2010, Carol Ann Tomlinson; used with permission.

Here are three (of innumerable) ways to differentiate a lesson. They are listed by challenge level, from green to black--from least to most difficult (think ski slope difficulty ratings):


Create a RAFT writing activity to extend and demonstrate student learning. Give students choices for Role, Audience, Format and Topic. Here are two examples of RAFT assignments from a 6th grade life science lesson on biological relationships:

Retrieved from Differentiation Central; Used with permission; Go the link to see the complete lesson plan.


Create a Think-Tac-Toe board that provides students multiple ways to learn, practice, and extend their thinking. Students may be asked to complete one task per column, as in this example:

Used with permission

While Think-Tac-Toe boards are straightforward, much thinking and intentionality go into creating respectful and productive tasks. Here is a resource by Corine Sikora that introduces and provides examples of Think-Tac-Toe boards, menu boards, and choice boards.


Tier learning experiences to differentiate for students’ readiness levels by providing multiple levels of challenge. Students select their challenge level for a given assignment or assessment according to the principle of “challenge by choice” (while teachers nudge students here and there as needed). Here is a wonderful site that provides numerous video clips and samples (including the one provided here) for creating tiered learning experiences:

Retrieved from Challenge By Choice. Used with permission.

Ready to give one of these a try? Here’s a template from Differentiation Central that you can use to build a differentiated lesson.

Responses From Readers

Several readers sent-in suggestions via Twitter. I’ve used Storify to collect their comments:

Thanks to Kimberly and to readers for their contributions!

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