The Differentiated Instruction Book of Lists Launches!

Sep 5, 2011 by

The Differentiated Instruction Book of Lists!

After a year of work, our book has been released into the wild!

Differentiated Instruction, in a nutshell, is about delivering a more personalized experience to students in the classroom.  It sounds great in theory- wouldn’t we all want to be in a classroom where we feel special, and like the teacher understand us, and we can work as a team to master new skills and knowledge?  For many teachers, the philosophy of differentiation gets lost in the day to day application.  Teachers think and say things like:

  • “I don’t have time to make a separate lesson plan for every kid in my classroom.”
  • “I have so many kids each day, I have a hard enough time learning their names, let alone personalizing instruction.”
  • “I’d have to change up all my current lesson plans- that would take forever, and I’m not guaranteed this will help.”
  • “My current teaching methods seem to be working just fine, thanks. I don’t have time for this.”

The Differentiated Instruction Book of Lists is geared towards making the theory and research supporting differentiation easily doable and achievable in the classroom.  I look at it as taking theory from benchtop to bedside in medical research.  We may know, in theory, that everything works in experiments, but what’s going to happen “in the wild”?  How do I apply this theory and all of these great concepts to my lesson plans and my classroom with my kids, not some theoretical group in a lab school somewhere?  The Book is designed with sections for grade levels K-12 and all subject areas.  We give ideas, tips and resources to help teachers not only understand DI but how to gradually work it into their classroom, as they are ready.

We’ve also created this website and our Free Bonus Materials and Resources to help create an ongoing community and resource to help you get the support you need as you think about adding DI into your teaching tools.

Reaching Today’s Students

At the ISTE conference in June, I heard Heidi Hayes Jacobs from Curriculum Designers and Curriculum 21 say that daily, students leave a 21st century world to enter a classroom that hasn’t changed substantially since the 1900’s, when education became compulsory in many states.  Then they leave this land to re-enter the 21st century at the end of the day, not sure that what they are doing and learning is relevant to their lives.  And if we’re honest, we often don’t give kids the reason why learning the chosen curriculum is important, if we even spend time to ask and answer this question for ourselves.  The internet has made access to information more ubiquitous than ever before, but we still need knowledge and wisdom more than ever.  Making sure education is meaningful and applicable to students is no longer a luxury, but a necessity, and it means a teacher’s role is shifting more to mentor and guide than the sole owner of the knowledge in the classroom.

That said, computers and web-based applications are not, alone, going to transform students and classrooms.  Teachers are needed who know when to use these tools and when not to, to make any student’s learning more than it would be otherwise.  I tell folks who ask me questions about whether they should have video or audio on their website, that it all depends- are you just telling people something, in which case audio alone might be more powerful, or do they need to see and almost touch what you are saying?  In that case, video or other multimedia presentations might be more effective.  It takes a good teacher to not only look at the tool, but look at the best and highest use of the tool to make the biggest impact on learning.  Our book hopes to help you with some ideas and starters of how to use tech to enhance and differentiate your lessons, but in the end, your actual implication will have the most impact.  Teachers are not only being pushed to adopt new technology but to use it in the best way for maximum impact at the same time, as an article in the New York Times seems to implicate.  Just having technology is not enough- and we hope the ideas and sample lessons we give in our book help teachers make those small changes to increase the impact of their application.

We hope you find the book useful, and would love to hear your questions, comments, criticisms and more here!  Please feel free to comment or to send us email at



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Understanding Differentiation

Jul 28, 2011 by

Differentiated Instruction has a mixed reputation.  It’s seen as potentially transformative, allowing all students to learn and understand the lessons and materials in the classroom.  It sounds like a great philosophy and ideal, almost like the dream of a perfect school.  Yet the devil is in the details- how do we make this dream a reality?  How can I start to differentiate in my class?  Where do I start?

Many teachers assume that DI is impossible, because they assume it will require essentially individualized lesson plans for each kid in the classroom.  When it’s often difficult to make sure kids with IEP’s get the accommodations they need, how would this work if every kid had their own plan?  It’s enough to make anyone crazy.  But let’s take a moment and look at another profession where people need to be treated as individuals, but without a group template or process, it simply wouldn’t work at all- Medicine.

My husband’s an OB-GYN.  He knows how the whole process works, from conception to delivery and beyond, and generally what tends to go wrong in between.  He needs to be a good diagnostician, which means being able to tell when a patient is progressing according to the general plan, and when their condition deviates from the norm and needs special attention.  He has to recognize some problems before they occur, and prescribe treatments to prevent conditions, as well as treat problems when they come up.  This is taking a basic treatment model for a condition- “pregnancy” and applying it to all different people, of different ages, races,  with pre-existing conditions and more, and tweeking it just a little to make sure the outcome is the best it can be for two patients- Mother and Baby.

If we apply this same template to teachers, teachers have to know how a normal student progresses through the year.  But then the teacher has to look for warning signs of a kid being in trouble before they actually get there, and do what’s needed to prevent problems before the occur.  They also have to know how to help kids who are really struggling, and know what tips or alternatives to use to make sure that child gets what they need as well.  That’s differentiating.

In our book, Jenifer and I discuss the hierarchy of needs in the classroom, based loosely on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  We made the following chart:

When students are in the classroom, they need to have their basic needs for “food clothing and shelter” met before they can really concentrate on the bigger things they need to concentrate on, like learning.  This means one of the key, foundational elements any teacher can do is create a classroom environment where kids feel safe and welcomed.

If you’ve ever wondered why we insist kids have a good breakfast every morning, it’s in part to make sure they have the energy to learn, but it’s also so they are not distracted by worrying about being hungry.  Some teachers I know even keep a box of snacks in their classroom- packets of goldfish or other things- to help make sure any hungry child has something to eat.  It makes the children feel more secure, and it makes the job o teaching just a little easier for the teacher as well.  Some other teachers keep a few hoodies or big sweaters from a thrift shop in the classroom, in case a child is cold for the very same reasons- when a child has a basic comfort need unmet, the chances they will concentrate on the business of the classroom goes down.

This is why the first step to creating a great classroom, even before we start talking about other steps to differentiate instruction,it’s about creating a classroom where you and the kids feel comfortable. Maybe even like a “third period family” for the time they are with you.

The more the kids have a sense of what is expected, that you will be fair, and that they are expected to respect each other, the more willing they will be to take risks and make mistakes when learning.  They’ll be more willing to go try a problem on a board or work in a group if they feel comfortable and that they won’t be humiliated or singled out for sharing their ideas.

By understanding a bit about Maslow’s hierarchy and how it effects a student’s motivation to learn and willingness to take risks, it will be easier to start thinking about ways to meet the individual needs of the students in your classroom.  And just like a doctor, the changes will often be changes that apply to many kids, not just one, and the small tweeks to head off problems in advance will serve everyone in the classroom well.

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Bonus Material Available July 25th

Jul 20, 2011 by

While the Differentiated Instruction Book of Lists won’t be released until August 16, 2011, we decided to give you a little sneak preview.  We’re releasing the web-based bonus material on its own page on this website on July 25, 2011.  You’ll be able to get the free bonus material in advance of the actual book coming out!  It will be located on its own page labelled “bonus material”  on this site, and we’d love your feedback on it.

We think you’ll get a lot of use out of the web resources guide in particular, and find the Understanding Different Learners section informative, even if it’s a bit geeky.

We’re also going to have a hashtag on Twitter so you can contact us, let us know what you think about the books and the materials, and ask any questions you might have.  Just do a search for #DIBOL on Twitter, and we’ll be able to see your tweets!

Let us know what you think- you can contact us by email at or on twitter @ldpodcast or @jeniferfox.  We look forward to connecting with you!

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ISTE Reflections- Semantic versus Linear Learning

Jul 1, 2011 by

I attended the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference this week, and I came away feeling enriched, overwhelmed, and oddly comforted that for everyone that seems to feel overwhelmed by the tech tools available, the teaching and personal connections between student and teacher are still the most important ones we can make.

One of the things that has stayed with me from a presentation by Heidi Hayes Jacobs of Curriculum 21 was that the major difference between my education and that of my children is that we were taught in a very step-wise linear way, and their world is much more semantic in nature.  For example, searches online need not follow a list- you can search for just the piece of information you think you need, and what you find there may take you down very different paths.  But your search depends on your ability to precisely articulate what you want online and you get that, and only that, unless you decide to reformulate and change up your search.  Traditional searches for source material, in a library, lead you to a book you thought you wanted, but you may find that its neighbors or the things on the next shelf down are actually more to the point.  You get directed more to a neighborhood of ideas in a library than an exact destination online.  This  sort of “fuzzy logic” in both cases may lead you to material you didn’t really know you wanted, teaching you about a subject in the process, but in very different ways, based on how we interact with the tool at hand.

Keeping this in mind, when we look at differentiating instruction for kids, we have to think about the issue in a more semantic or web based way, rather than a linear, step by step, recipe process.  Learning, by the nature of humans and the way our brain works, is a semantic process.  School has largely been designed on a linear, step by step process, with each thing leading to the next  class or unit or grade level like an assembly line.  We’ve tried to do self-paced study, but we have yet to design a school that seems to allow kids to explore and learn in a more semantic way, and instead, making them stop and focus on what we think they need to learn now.

Changing school to reflect a more semantic learning style is going to be a challenge, and its going to be hard.  Heidi suggests you decide just to upgrade your curriculum, choosing one thing to work on, do well, and master, concentrating on quality blog posts, for example, over quantity.  Once you have mastered this skill, moving on to another one works.  Sequential upgrades keeps the panic and paralysis in check.

Part of learning to differentiate instruction is starting to understand the fact that linear learning is not always natural or a good fit, especially in an outside world that rewards semantic learning more and more.  I know I’ll be thinking about this, and how this different way of approaching learning and skill development can be implemented in the classroom.


What are your thoughts?

How would you develop a more semantic-based lesson or learning plan into your unit or curriculum?  Can it be done, and would it meet the needs of more learners who can learn by developing their own pathways to the end goal?


Share your comments below, and consider joining our group on Differentiated Instruction and Personalized learning over on Edutopia!

Howard Gardner on Education

Jun 13, 2011 by

This is a great video of Howard Garner, the “father” of multiple intelligences, from the Edutopia website.   Jenifer and I moderate a group on Differentiated Instruction and personalized learning on Edutopia, and we’d love to have you join us there as well. We’re hoping that our book, The Differentiated Instruction Book of Lists, will help classroom teachers make  personalized learning and project based learning a larger part of a student’s school experience, especially because this is the knowledge they rake with them, not just a series of facts stored in their brains.  The video is well worth the 7 minutes- let us know what you think!

Free e-Books for Teachers

Jun 10, 2011 by

As educators, we’re always looking for free and low cost resources for great content.  Many of you may be considering buying an e-reader, or may already have a Kindle, Nook, iPad or other e-book device.  (Even the iPhone can be used to read books either through the iBooks, Nook or Kindle App.)   But as nifty and convenient as these devices can be, it can still be costly to fill them with great content.

There’s a solution, besides downloading free previews or excerpts of books on the Kindle or iBooks app, to let you know of great free and low cost content for your Kindle-compatible device.  There’s a great website called Pixel of Ink that posts daily links to free and low-cost Kindle books.  I subscribe to this site, and get the updates sent to me by email daily, letting me know which books are currently available for free or minimal cost.  While many of the books are fiction, I recently downloaded a European Travel Guide, which I’m looking forward to using on a trip later this summer.

Today, Pixel of Ink has links to 55 free Kindle Books for education from Vook, a company that has been producing  mixed media books, incorporating video as well as text into these “360 degree” ebooks.  (Vook also has apps in the iTunes store, and is compatible with iBooks, Nook and the Kindle, so it’s a win across the board!)  The list includes textbooks, exam preparation books, macroeconomics, foreclosure law and more.  (When I went to the link on Amazon, I saw most of the books were actually priced in the $1.99 range and weren’t still free.  But this is still extremely cheap!)

Amazon is also featuring “Sunshine Deals” with over 600 titles for Kindle ranging from $0.99 to $2.99 through June 15th.  Time to take advantage for summer reading!

Full disclosure:

While I do have an Amazon Affiliate store over at and we will be incorporating one for recommended books mentioned here at, this post itself is not sponsored by and we don’t receive any revenue if you end up purchasing any e-books through these links.