A Focus on the HOW





Comprehensive approaches to differentiation and special education are more necessary than ever if schools will reach our ambitions of high levels of learning for all students. Both differentiation and special education are critical elements of an Instruction and Intervention System and both are complex and critical processes.


A Comprehensive Approach to Differentiation within Instruction and Intervention Systems


Effective Core (Tier 1) Supports are built on providing students what they need; educators call this differentiation. What follows are the elements of differentiated supports for each and every student:


  • We survey our students to learn about their interests, passions, and drives; we then incorporate this information in small and large ways throughout the school year.
  • We screen to ensure we have identified students at high-risk of experiencing failure in the absence of a scaffolded set of Core Supports and immediate, intensive, and targeted Specialized (Tier 3) Supports. These students will need our very best in terms of scaffolded and differentiated supports to achieve successes within the core.
  • We build relationships with students early and often, so that the learning environment is positive and productive and so that a growth mindset prevails.
  • We plan for:


  • What – specifically and fundamentally – students will learn.
  • A prioritized scope of sequence of concepts and skills, based on state and local priorities and student needs.
  • How students will access information and content?
  • How we will differentiate during whole group instruction?
  • How we will differentiate during small group instruction?
  • How students will interact with the content?
  • With whom students will learn?
  • Tasks that provide students with choice and opportunities to exercise agency.
  • When students will learn?
  • Where students will learn?
  • How students will show us what they know and what they can do?
  • The materials we will need to provide differentiated supports.
  • Pedagogies that that will scaffold students to success, such as those based on a gradual release of responsibility model. This does not mean teacher-only lecture, but a sound lesson design that includes rich student discourse and interaction supported by a teacher’s metacognitive modeling. There is a reason that direct instruction has twice the effect size of inquiry-based approaches (although we are huge fans of inquiry too…the genius of AND)
  • Questioning techniques that meet students at the leading edge of their zones of proximal development and engage them in productive struggle.
  • Practices and strategies based on interests, modalities, styles – not because any are superior or because students necessarily possess a predisposition to learn best from one more than another, but because multiple approaches contribute to a greater likelihood that learning will occur; because interacting with concepts from multiple perspectives and directions strengthens understanding.
  • Assessments that ensure that we can accurately measure what students know in relation to the very first element for which we planned: “What – specifically and fundamentally – students will learn.”

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