The fact that students differ may be inconvenient, but it is inescapable. Adapting to that diversity is the inevitable price of productivity, high standards, and fairness to kids.

— Theodore Sizer

All students have needs, and it is misleading to think of struggling or below-level students as being the “neediest.” While their needs may require more intensive attention, it is unfair to leave gifted and advanced students to fend for themselves. The goal of differentiation is to identify the specific needs of different students in order to design appropriate types of instruction for each of them.

Differentiation is… Differentiation is not…
Different work More work
Deeper or broader assignments Longer assignments
Tiered assignments Extra assignments
High expectations for all students Individualization
Structured choices for students Always teacher-assigned
Rote tasks and memorization High-level thinking
Instruction in needed skills Self-help or peer tutoring
Appropriately challenging Pushing to the limits
Respectful, meaningful work Keeping students occupied
Flexible grouping based on pretesting Static ability groups
Demonstrating mastery Assuming understanding
Moving at their own pace Waiting until the group is ready to move on
Varied strategies, approaches, and adaptations The same differentiation strategy all the time
Giving credit for mastered content Having the same grades for every student
Supporting and scaffolding for all students Focusing attention on the struggling students
Fair Equal