Planning for MORE Purposeful Differentiation in Special Education

Tuesday, June 27, 2017




In special education we differentiate in our sleep, right? Wrong.

As a special education administrator, I’ve noticed some of my teachers who are self-contained in a special ed. resource room fall into a bad habit. They think they are using differentiation purely because they asked a student after the fact a question with two choices or they read something aloud. It really depends on what the task is and what the teacher’s intentions were to tell whether or not something was actually differentiated for the different level of students.


As an admin, whenever I pop into a class, I can easily pick up on whether the differentiation completed was intentional or done as an afterthought in a last minute attempt to meet the needs of all learners. 

With this in mind I decided to share with you all easy quick tips that you can do to help make the differentiation that you are doing with your students more purposeful.  

As a starting point, there are three things every teacher should determine before attempting to differentiate instruction.

1.     Know- The teacher should know exactly what it is that they want their students to know.
2.     Understand- The teacher should determine what it is that they want their students to understand after the lesson is complete.
3.     Practice- The teacher should think of how they want the students to put into practice and demonstrate the knowledge they have gained.

In all THREE areas, there is ample opportunity for differentiation. For students you can adjust your expectations for what each student should know.


For an example….
In science your overall lesson starting point could be the following:

Know: The students will know about different types of weather.
Understand- The students will understand that weather follows a pattern and season. They will understand that snow happens in the winter, and not in summer… etc. 
Practice: The student will create a graphic organizer with the types of weather and when they occur.

So we have our basics down. Now how do we differentiate it?  We can differentiate it at every single level.








The middle section is the overall goal for the lesson. For lower students, the concepts and activities have been lowered to be challenging yet attainable. You can always differentiate further if needed depends on your students!

My three is go to activities that allow for built in differentiation are as follows:


Graphic Organizers – These can be used to easily differentiate. Ask some students to write their responses, while others use pictures. You can even easily differentiate the level of knowledge as well. 

In Writing- Ask some students to write their response to a question, others can finish sentence starters, some can draw their response, and others can work with some assistance to complete sentences between multiple choices.

Hit as many learning styles as you can with an activity- I don’t mean that you need to encompass all of them into one, but if you try, I’m sure that you will find, you can hit many of the learning styles with a well rounded lesson!

 When learning a new math concept you can make an anchor chart with visuals and talk about it as a whole group. You can then use manipulatives to practice the math concept and then maybe even sing a song about it!



Differentiation is great when it’s done very thoughtfully and purposefully. I hope you learned something from my little post! Be sure to comment below with your favorite way to differentiate in your classroom!





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