George Lucas Educational Foundation

The DI Book of Lists

The DI Book of Lists

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How do you start personalizing instruction in your classroom? Do you use web resources, books, or ask colleagues? How do you get started? After a great professional development seminar, teachers can often think "OK, I get why personalizing instruction or differentiating instruction is important, but how do i make it happen in my class?" What's the best way to get going?

In order to help you get started, Jenifer Fox and I wrote a book for Jossey Bass- The Differentiated Instruction Book of Lists- to help with that process. It's all about small tips and information to help you make your lessons and curriculum more responsive to your student's needs, and how to design assignments and assessments to make sure your students can show you all the really do know and have learned. It's available from, Barnes and Noble and elsewhere. We also have a website with free bonus material at

The bonus material deals a lot with identifying each child's individual needs and understanding where they might be having trouble- whether it's a working memory problem, or a weakness in another area. We also cover tips for helping to develop higher order and critical thinking skills in your students. We also have additional resources and web links available, to help you find the information you need as quickly and easily as possible.

This certainly is not the only resource out there- what have you used and what do you find most helpful? I'd love to get your feedback on the website, book and how you have gotten started with personalizing learning for your students.

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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charrod's picture
Instructional Technology Specialist

Cross posted on my blog:

"How do you start personalizing instruction in your classroom?"

Hmmm...this one made me dig deeper into the ideas of differentiation, personalized instruction and individualization. While there is certainly some overlap here, I think it behooves us to tease out the ways in which they are different but perhaps more importantly, to consider the lens from which we view these ideas.

I started with the National Educational Technology Plan:

"Throughout this plan, we use the following definitions: Individualization refers to instruction that is paced to the learning needs of different learners. Learning goals are the same for all students, but students can progress through the material at different speeds according to their learning needs. For example, students might take longer to progress through a given topic, skip topics that cover information they already know, or repeat topics they need more help on.

Differentiation refers to instruction that is tailored to the learning preferences of different learners. Learning goals are the same for all students, but the method or approach of instruction varies according to the preferences of each student or what research has found works best for students like them.

Personalization refers to instruction that is paced to learning needs, tailored to learning preferences, and tailored to the specific interests of different learners. In an environment that is fully personalized, the learning objectives and content as well as the method and pace may all vary (so personalization encompasses differentiation and individualization)."

This shines some light on the differences between individualization, differentiation and personalization but honestly I find myself struggling; struggling because they all tend to focus on the teaching not the learning. All of them still perpetuate a teacher-directed classroom vs a student-centered classroom.

In my humble, still growing opinion, we should be talking about personalized learning and the only way for teachers to understand, truly understand, personalized learning in the 21st Century is to be a networked learner because something dramatic and powerful happens when teachers immerse themselves in networked spaces; a vast array of doors are opened... by the learner.

So, to answer your question, Whitney, I wouldn't begin by personalizing the instruction, I would...

*grow my own powerful personal learning network to include uplifting, thought-provoking people, resources and ideas
*use the vast array of technology tools to help me connect and learn with these people, resources and ideas

and then...then...I would...

*create spaces for my students that permit them to create their own spaces for personalized learning to occur and I would be there to guide and support them in their explorations. It requires refocusing on learning...not teaching. (The instructional practices will be driven by the learning.)

Just some beginning thoughts...

Kevin Crosby's picture
Kevin Crosby
Educator and School Counselor / Trinidad School District #1

In my practice the key is pre-assessment and frequent formative assessments. I'm not talking about monster batteries, but short, unit-level dipsticks. For example, in any middle or high school English class, some students will have mastered parts of speech; others still don't know a noun from a verb. A well-designed pre-test will create the opportunity to insure those who have mastered the content will not be forced to do assignments to further prove what they already know while also identifying those who despite being taught nouns and verbs annually for years still do not have a grasp. The next question is how to get individuals or small groups to elaborate or accelerate while others focus on creating products that will help them master and remember once and for all. So, it's about determining what each student knows and is able to do (in relation to a given standard), and then capitalizing on their learning styles and intelligences to take them from current level forward.

I think a common error with differentiation is focusing primarily on bringing the bottom up. This often ignores the needs of the brightest and most advanced students. We must design pre-assessments to determine who is advanced and help them decide what they will do instead while others perhaps focus on more basic skills.

Sarah Minnick's picture
Sarah Minnick
8-12 Social Studies teacher, Pennsylvania

I think differentiation comes from giving the students choices in which they complete a targeted goal. Each format hits the essential question or big idea set forth for a given lesson, but scaffolds it in a way that will allow the student to express their knowledge that is best suited to them. I equate it to the variety cereal pack.(It works in so many settings!) Would you want to do the same type of assessment day in and day out? You still want to eat cereal right? Just not the same kind everyday. Give yourself a choice.

Terry Heick's picture
Terry Heick
founder/director at teachthought. humanist. technologist. futurist. macro thinker extraordinaire.

@Sarah--In that line of thinking, you can also create tiered learning targets as well, or have them create their own on a daily basis based on self-assessment, etc.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

I tend to look at differentiation from this point of view:

A teacher in a classroom teaching to the whole class may be pacing the curriculum at 40 miles per hour. Some kids will learn at 40 mph; others need the curriculum at 20 MPH, others learn at 60 MPH and are done, sonner, faster and are bored. If a teacher can do something like a pre-assessment, she can determine which kids can move on to more challenging material, which ones are on track, and which need more support or reteaching of a lesson.

Sometimes, it's not just pacing, though- it can be modalities, needing a larger context, etc. to what's being taught/learned. Using frequent low level assessments- clickers, thumbs up/down, a teacher can get a sense of what the class is grasping and how they may have to adjust the lesson plan to meet the needs of the students, or if the class needs to be split into groups.
The bottom line is that many kids will have an easy time with one lesson where they may have more background knowledge or interest, but struggle with the next one, and not always for obvious reasons. But the more in tune the teacher is with the students, the more likely this can happen on the fly.

For example, when I teach adult classes on using new technology, I always try to get to know a bit about the students and what their individual interests or needs are, so I can include them in the lesson, or use examples that involve their business or interests. This keeps them engaged, while providing concrete examples for the rest of the class on how they might start thinking about modifying the "rules" to suit their own purposes.

It seems to me the first step towards differentiation is to really get to know your class- do you agree?

Kevin Crosby's picture
Kevin Crosby
Educator and School Counselor / Trinidad School District #1

The first step to personalizing education is knowing the person you are educating.

Maybe I sound like a wise-guy, but I'm serious. Sometimes we overlook the obvious.

Joanna Puello's picture
Joanna Puello
CEO/Founder of World Upside Down

One tool that our community of educators has REALLY enjoyed to help created Personalized Learning Environments for students and teachers is iGoogle. Teachers can create iGoogle PLEs and share them with their students, giving them a personalized web browser platform that the can work from at home and at school. Check out one of our educator's lesson plans to learn how he integrated it with his team!

Tina's picture
Kindergarten Teacher

I enjoyed viewing your website. I am planning to purchase the book. I am interested to learn ways to differentiate instruction in my classroom. I will let you know how it has helped me once I get it up and running.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

Thanks Tina! Feel free to email or call if you have any questions- happy to help!!

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