Differentiated Instruction

A Brief History

Differentiated Instruction is hardly a new concept. The one-room schoolhouses of the 17th century required teachers to address the needs of students at various levels in one room. Later, as grade-level classrooms emerged, it was a natural inclination to think that differentiation wouldn’t be needed as much, but with the entrance of achievement tests and intelligence tests in the early 1900s, it was clear that there were still widely varying levels of achievement within the grade-level classrooms.

Differentiation movements surged and retreated at different times, but in 1975, with the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), schools were held accountable to differentiate for students with disabilities. Differentiation continued to flourish through the Whole Language and Balanced Literacy movements of the 1980s and 1990s, particularly with an emphasis on leveled texts and small-group instruction.

In 2000, with the passage of No Child Left Behind, (NCLB), skill-based instruction grew, and so did ability-based differentiation. Differentiated Instruction continues to grow as new influencers on education, such as 21st Century Skills and the Common Core State Standards, make their way into curricular goals and expectations. As we raise the bar of what it means to be college- and career-ready in this country, the need for differentiated classrooms will continue to grow.