A previous blog centered on ability grouping and objections to it based on its possible negative impact on struggling students. However, other classroom arrangements such as Skill-based learning can address differing student needs including ability level, interests, and learning styles. This instructional approach is an example of differentiated instruction, “a wide variety of teaching techniques and lesson adaptations to instruct a diverse group of students.”  Addressing students’ learning needs at their levels is the foundation of the differentiated learning philosophy. So it is commonly used in heterogeneous grouping. The emphasis on meeting students’ needs is especially important due to current continual learning disruptions. 

Differentiated instruction does entail more work for the teacher and may require specialized training, especially for classes that include a wide range of student abilities. One major criticism of the approach is related to the “relative complexities and difficulties entailed in teaching diverse types of students in a single classroom or educational setting.” It may include adapting the curriculum to fit students’ needs.  Differentiation may involve adjusting the content of a lesson as well as practice exercises, tests and projects. 

Perhaps the best examples of differentiated instruction occur outside of the classroom: tutoring and homeschooling. In these situations, the teacher or parent customizes the learning precisely for each student.  Differentiation allows teachers and parents the opportunity to teach on different levels, so they can address the needs of each student.  “Tutors have been educating on an individualized basis for millennia. Since the time before great scholars such as Plato founded their schools, tutors have been invited into households to educate.” 

By its very nature, homeschooling involves differentiation. Both the schedule and content of learning can be designed to meet the needs of the individual student. Perhaps that is the reason why home-schooled students typically outperform their public school counterparts: “The home-educated typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public-school students on standardized academic achievement tests. . . regardless of their parents’ level of formal education or their family’s household income.”   

Laura Maniglia