Differentiation is a widely accepted (and debated) strategy for meeting the needs of a diverse range of learners, especially in special education classrooms. According to Carol Tomlinson, “a differentiated classroom provides different avenues to acquiring content, to processing or making sense of ideas, and to developing products so that each student can learn effectively.”
But what does it look like in practice?
First, let me describe our class setting to give you some background. I teach at a self-contained special education high school in Manhattan. The learners at our school range from students with learning disabilities or speech and language delays (which effect academic performance, but do not generally effect their physical appearance or how they react in social situations) to those with autism spectrum disorders or down syndrome (which effect socialization and communication as well as academic levels.) Our math classes are mixed grade (9th graders with 10th graders and 11th graders with 12th graders) in order to create groupings that can best meet each student’s academic and social/emotional needs. There are three concurrent math classes, which means our class groupings are no bigger than 8 students with a head teacher and an assistant teacher. This leads to collaborative in-class groups that can be as small as 4 students to 1 teacher.