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Top 4 Facts on Differentiated Instruction vs Traditional Methods


Updated June 18, 2014

Differentiation is the practice of modifying and adapting instruction, materials, content, student projects and products, and assessment to meet the learning needs of students. In a differentiated classroom, teachers recognize that all students are different and require varied teaching methods to be successful in school. Learn more about differentiated instruction, how it differs from traditional teaching methods, and how it can be used to help your child with learning disabilities at home and at school.

Traditional Teaching Methods were Historically Fixed and Inflexible

Teacher holding flashcard in front of children (5-7)
Catherine Ledner/Stone/Getty Images
Traditional teaching methods were based on a model similar to the following:
  • The teacher delivers instruction, typically through lecture;
  • The teacher models the skill, often on a blackboard or overhead projector;
  • The student is given practice work, usually in workbooks or on handouts;
  • The teacher reviews the student's work and/or tests the group using a pencil and paper test; and
  • The teacher provides feedback on the student's performance, usually in the form of a grade for the work and marks on items missed.

Traditional Methods had Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages of traditional methods:
  • They were uniform and consistent;
  • Subjects and skills were taught in a specific order that changed little; and
  • Instruction adequately met the needs of about half of students in a classroom.

Disadvantages of traditional methods:

  • They were inflexible;
  • Students with diverse backgrounds and disabilities often did not respond well to this delivery;
  • Subject matter was not upgraded quickly enough to keep students' skills and general knowledge current; and
  • Instruction focused on memorization and less on higher level thinking skills.

Advantages of Differentiation

Differentiated instruction has many advantages over traditional teaching methods:
  • They meet the needs of diverse students with a variety of learning styles.
  • They accommodate students with learning disabilities and other types of disabilities.
  • Students from different cultures such as English language learners.
  • Differentiated instruction stimulates creativity and helps students understand ideas at higher levels of thinking than teaching through wrote memorization alone.

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