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Design a professional development plan Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 4th, 2019


In a differentiated instruction, the teacher plans tactically in order to satisfy the needs of all students. This method of instruction is based on the belief that there exists a degree of differences among groups of learners and the teacher will change the instruction method to fit any particular group (Tomlinson and Allan, 2000).

Thus, a varied kind of tuition is a way for tutors to give instruction based on individual capacity to learn and understand things better at a persona level.

Tomlinson defined differentiated instruction as a teaching philosophy in which learners’ interests are best served when the facilitator, in this case the teacher, is aware of the variance in the learner’s levels of readiness, interest and learning profile (Sousa, 2001).

In addition, she insists that differentiation is more than an instructional strategy for teaching; rather it is a new and creative way of understanding learning and teaching (Tomlinson and Allan, 2000).

According to Tomlinson (1999a), classroom teachers should begin from where their students are and not from the first page of the curriculum guide book.

A classroom that is differentiated will use a vast number of instructional strategies, be more creative and flexible with time management as the teacher develops ways to collaborate more with the students in creating an environment that is not only conducive for learning, but also fits the individual needs of each leaner (Tomlinson, 1999b).

The most essential aspect of a differentiated classroom is the availability of data on the learner’s readiness for a specific skill through assessments by the teacher. This data provides valuable feedback to the teacher thus allowing him or her to modify the content, process and the product.

Identifying Components

In a differentiated instruction, there are some key features that are instrumental in maintaining the integrity of the education environment. According to Tomlinson, there are three elements of the curriculum that teachers can differentiate (Tomlinson and Imbeau, 2010). Some of the areas that can be differentiated in a class room by the teachers are:

Content: These are what the student is actually learning. Content deals with facts of the unit. These facts taught may include the skills and principles taught by the teacher.

Process: This is the way content is being delivered to the learners. Process uses activities that help learners gain an understanding of the concepts and skills being taught by the teacher.

Product: This enables students to showcase their acquired concepts and skills in and outside the classroom. With these core principles, the teacher can now differentiate the content (which is what he or she teaches) from the process (which is how he or she teaches) to the product (which is what he or she uses to demonstrate the student’s learning).

Teachers conduct these processes by being aware of the student’s readiness (what the learners know), their preferred style to learning or the learning profile and finally their interests (Sousa 2001).

Finding goals and objectives that are essential (KUDs): Differentiated instruction is based on the assumption that it has a well-developed curriculum as differentiation cannot occur in a vacuum.

In articulating this process the teacher needs to have a clear understanding of short and long term learning objectives; be able to share these short and long-term goals and objective with student; with a clear understanding of what the goal are based on; and finally to be able to reorganize and prioritize these learning goals and objectives (Sousa and Tomlinson, 2010).

KUD-Objectives: Know Understand Do

The learning goals and objectives which deal in facts are in the “know” group

The second is the “Do”-group. Some of the challenges experienced by teachers in trying to develop instructions that are beneficial to their learners include;

  1. Making sure that a room is created for genuine context for assessment and also for practice
  2. Developing major skills that can be assessed and is known to produce improvement
  3. Determining self-assessment reports from students coupled with constant assessment by the teacher
  4. Being able to give useful and timely feedback to students concerning their skills

The third group is involved with the “understanding”. This is the less talked about group and some of the questions that a teacher may ask to help clarify this category are as follows-:

  1. What does the teacher want the leaner to remember and understand 2 years from now?
  2. What is it that the teacher wants the learner to use inside and outside the classroom?
  3. Why do we study these skills?
  4. What does it mean to be proficient in a particular skill?

Assessing the student’s readiness, interest and learning profile

As already mentioned earlier, another core component of differentiated instruction is an effective assessment (Tomlinson, 1995). The following are some of the strategies used in the learner’s assessment even though some experienced educators have developed some intuitive ways of assessing their students.

Formative assessment

This is a key tool used to highlight the need to concentrate on understanding while improving on the learner’s learning as opposed to measuring the learning (Wiggins,2004). This tool is not focused on ranking students but in designing tasks that gives data on all areas of the student’s learning with the clear understanding of their own cultural and socio-economic backgrounds.

The formative assessment involves some or all of the following: pre-assessment activities, ongoing informal assessments, observation, checklists, student reflection and self-assessments, exit slips and collaborative analysis of student’s work.


Feedback is central to communication between the educator and student. This is a special skill the teacher must learn to be able to communicate effectively and provide guidance to the learners.


This process is normally conducted at the start of each semester. This is the initial stage of the assessment process as it accords the teacher an opportunity to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their learners.

Readiness, interest and learning profile

Several researches by experts have shown that assessing readiness and learning profile are critical to the creation of a differentiated class. It is believed that these are the factors that differentiate one learner from the other, and are crucial in the planning of the instructions (Tomlinson, 1995).


Teachers generally tend to employ different types of assessments to help gauge a student’s readiness with particular interest in their knowledge or skills and understanding. Tomlinson states that readiness levels in a class vary, so must the complexity of work provided (Tomlinson, 2003).


The student’s interests are also assessed as part of the differentiated instruction as this information is used in developing learning experiences that are relevant to the learners. There are certain software applications such as the mind manager and the Inspiration that can be used by teachers to guide through concepts and subtopics which may be of personal interest to the students (Tomlinson, 2010).

Learning Profile

This alludes to the best style with which a student learns. It’s their preferred way of learning which may be influenced by learning style, intelligence preference, culture, and gender.

This differentiation can be done by the use journals, videotape presentations, and role plays, changing the environment, oral histories, or project-based learning. Because of the difference in student’s motivation and role its role in learning, it is paramount for the teachers to understand it to be able to apply the necessary strategies to motivate them (Nunley, K).

Available data and research gives credence to the notion that learning styles of students change over time and with age. This affords the learners an opportunity to develop alternative learning strategies and thinking skills to prepare them for the tasks that require specific modalities.

The student’s learning profile helps the teacher to develop strategies that target the natural strength of the student while seeking to develop other alternative learning strategies.

Designing differentiated strategies

Classroom Routines

These are important because of the different changes that occur in classes that may be confusing and at times distracting. A typical class routine may begin with the large group interactions, small groups and finally paired or individual practice (Wiggins, 2004).

Tiered Assignments

Generally tiered activities are a series of tasks with different degrees of complexity but are related in their objective and outcome. The activities involved in this process are intrinsic to the desired skills and understanding that the learners need to obtain. Educators in some cases use these activities as a special way of achieving the same goals and objectives of the learners while being sensitive to their unique needs

Flexible Grouping

The performance of the student will change depending on their readiness thus the teacher should allow for movements within the groups as these allows the learners to benefit as leaders and from intellectual peers. Based on the premise that “one size does not fit all”, teachers using flexible groupings endeavor to attend to learners who may be identified as gifted while not excluding those who lag behind the unit level or grade level.

Table 1

Gathering Evidence: Life Cycle of Plants
Teaching Method Differentiated Instruction Feature(s)
Give several examples. In developing the lesson plan, the facilitator can comes up with examples that can help the learners to focus on seeds. The teacher may also use growing plants as an example in the classrooms
Focus on important features. The teacher uses oral presentation to focus the learners on the important aspects of the lesson. The teacher can focus the learners using written materials as this allows for the monitoring of the learners progress on these important issues in the classroom lesson.
Provide different media platforms. Different course texts were availed by the teacher and areas of reading difficulty were identified in the books. These parts were provided to the learners in digital and audio forms for easier accessibility.
Support background context. A lot of planning with various different aspects were conducted to provide the necessary background context:
  • Before this particular assignment was done, the teacher and the learners had isolated seeds from different tree grown within the school compound. This allowed the teacher to concretize the seeds from their earlier abstract concepts.
  • To enable the students to learn from their “proximal zone of development,” the teacher instructed the learners on how to find books that challenge them appropriately.
Provide peer learning.
  • Students are given the freedom or choice to work in pairs to research the questions. The teacher shifts into a facilitator’s role by monitoring the work done independently or in pairs
Allow for different avenues to showcase skills. The most important aspect of this lesson is its adaptability which creates room for various approaches during the lesson as they choose their preferred learning style.
Different varieties in content and tools. The lesson were developed with different varieties in content and tools:
  • Varieties in the resource materials,
  • Varieties in the access (text, digital, audio), and
  • Varieties in the response style.
Allow for different levels of complexity challenge. Different levels of complexity are offered to the students by the teacher through varied texts which represent varying levels of challenges. This process enables the learners to be tasked with researching questions that are adequately challenging to each of them.
Offer choices of learning contexts. During the course of this lesson, the teacher developed ways that differentiated the learning context:
  • Learners have the option to vary their response to the research science question in a written or recorded form.
  • Learners can work in small group, in pairs or independently during the assignment completion portion of the lesson.

Challenges and Conclusion

The biggest task in executing differentiated instruction has to do with how time is managed. The amount of time consumed in planning for a lesson by the teacher is considerable. The planning time includes the teachers’ assessment of the needs of each individual learner.

As we already know, students have different levels of readiness and interest and this requires a teacher to prepare activities that do not discriminate against any student. Achieving this task requires a lot of careful planning which is time consuming, as the teacher tries to incorporate key concepts while designing appropriate activities for each learner.

The nature of differentiated instruction allows for transitions to occur in the classrooms. This aspect of a differentiated class creates a challenge in the management of the class as the educator changes his/her role to that of a facilitator.

Finally, the need for continuous professional development cannot be emphasized enough as it allows the teachers to stay abreast with the emerging trends on skills and strategies of differentiated instructions. Teachers constantly encounter skills which may be new to them but they are encouraged to use them during the teaching process to build their confidence.

For differentiated instruction to become a successful in our schools, the teachers and the students passion and commitment is forms a huge part of the process. This is a new instructional approach that requires patience and perseverance on the part of the student and teacher as they settle into a different way of learning (Nunley, 2003).

Their participation is paramount to the success of this process as they encourage teachers in their professional development or peer coaching. It is therefore important to engage in instructional practices that integrate evaluated approaches as they are more likely to bring desired results in the learning process


Nunley, K. (2003). A student’s brain: The parent/teacher manual. Amherst, NH: Solution Tree Press.

Sousa, D. (2001). How the brain learns. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Sousa, D., & Tomlinson, C. (2011). Differentiation and the brain: How Neuroscience Supports the Learner-Friendly Classroom. Bloomington: Solution Tree.

Tomlinson, C. A. (1995). Deciding to differentiate instruction in the middle school: One school’s journey. Gifted Child Quarterly. 39(2), 77-87.

Tomlinson, C. A. (1999a). Mapping a route toward differentiated instruction. Retrieved from

Tomlinson, C. A. (1999b). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Tomlinson, C. A. (2003). Deciding to teach them all. Educational Leadership. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Tomlinson, C. A., et al. (2000). Leadership for differentiating schools and classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Tomlinson, C. A., & Imbeau, M. B. (2010).Leading and managing a differentiated classroom. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Wiggins, G. (2004). Assessment as feedback. Web.

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