The fact that students differ may be inconvenient, but it is inescapable. Adapting to that diversity is the inevitable price of productivity, high standards, and fairness to kids.

— Theodore Sizer

All students have needs, and it is misleading to think of struggling or below-level students as being the “neediest.” While their needs may require more intensive attention, it is unfair to leave gifted and advanced students to fend for themselves. The goal of differentiation is to identify the specific needs of different students in order to design appropriate types of instruction for each of them.

Differentiation is…Differentiation is not…
Different workMore work
Deeper or broader assignmentsLonger assignments
Tiered assignmentsExtra assignments
High expectations for all studentsIndividualization
Structured choices for studentsAlways teacher-assigned
Rote tasks and memorizationHigh-level thinking
Instruction in needed skillsSelf-help or peer tutoring
Appropriately challengingPushing to the limits
Respectful, meaningful workKeeping students occupied
Flexible grouping based on pretestingStatic ability groups
Demonstrating masteryAssuming understanding
Moving at their own paceWaiting until the group is ready to move on
Varied strategies, approaches, and adaptationsThe same differentiation strategy all the time
Giving credit for mastered contentHaving the same grades for every student
Supporting and scaffolding for all studentsFocusing attention on the struggling students