Differentiating instruction may be the key to academic success for many students whether they are classified or in the mainstream. The principle behind differentiation is simple: different students process information and learn in different ways and ii is important that teachers adapt the content, process or format to match the varying learning styles of their students. For example, some may be visual learners while others do best when material is presented in a verbal format. However, in the fast-paced, curriculum driven atmosphere of education today, there often exists a one size fits all way of presenting instruction and instructional materials. In addition, while lip service is often given to the importance of differentiating, many teachers have not received sufficient training to adequately adapt to the differences in the student body. Moreover, some consider differentiation something you do only for special education students. What about the differences in the wider population of general education students in the mainstream?
Differentiating begins by teachers assessing what each student actually knows about a particular content area. Next, it is of equal of even greater importance to understand how students process information. The example above about verbal vs. visual learners is just one of many different pieces of information that may guide teachers in determining how to present instructional materials. Sometimes the content is varied so that different students have different kinds of tasks to perform within the same academic subject. At other times, the same information is presently differently to different students. Another variable to consider is students’ interests. If teachers know that certain students have specific content area interests or are mobilized by music or movement, then these elements can be built into instruction to capture and maintain students’ motivation.
It is not uncommon for teachers and parents to need to seek out more specialized ways of assessing either student’s depth of acquired knowledge or their individual style of processing information. The most thorough way of accomplishing these tasks is to utilize a comprehensive psycho-educational or neuropsychological evaluation. These types of assessments focus in on measuring students’ knowledge base and information processing skills. Moreover, the results of these evaluations can be directly translated into instructional strategies which teachers and parents can use to give their students the best opportunity for academic success. A good evaluation will provide teachers with information that they may be unable to obtain on their own.