The Science and the Art in Differentiated Instruction


At SSIS, we are reflecting on our education journey and getting ready to celebrate our 25 years in education next school year.

So many SSIS life-long learners and future leaders have been with the school for these 25 years! Each one of them has been unique; Each one of them had a different way to approach, acquire and produce knowledge. So, along with our 25 years of excellence, we are also celebrating the amazing diversity of SSIS learning. And among the major take-aways of this beautiful journey, I would like to focus on one: the understanding of the science and the art of differentiation.  

We know that no two students learn alike and no two teachers teach alike, even though the curriculum can be the same. This is why one could claim that teaching is a combination of science and art: scientifically, there are evidence-driven ways that can ensure good quality of teaching, mainly (but not only) through the use of data on academic performance and evidence of students’ well-being and development. However, even if we scientifically can identify the good teaching practices, we cannot determine a teaching ‘formula’ that will work with every student. Each child is unique in terms of intelligence, prior knowledge and learning style and they also demonstrate their knowledge in different ways. 

This is where differentiation comes in, to bring the teaching art into the light; the teacher, as an artist, recreates instruction to respond to the diverse needs of each student, in a process that is everchangeable, adaptive and always unique. 

Even though differentiation is a very hot topic in education right now, great schools have been implementing differentiated strategies for a long time. At SSIS we have been discussing on our differentiation practices more than ever this year. We are carefully planning on our next steps to move forward, ensuring that every student is supported, stimulated and engaged, now matter how different their learning styles, strengths, challenges, dreams and aspirations are. We also explore ways to better support our teacher with professional learning, internal or external training, technology and other resources to further develop their differentiation strategies. 

The first step of differentiation is to identify the 3 big areas to reach all students’ learning. This can be done

  • by content – This is when teachers use a variety of delivery formats. For example, some students might prefer studying a textbook, while others might learn better when watching a video or listening to their teacher.
  • by process – Process is how students make sense of the content. This is when we employ a variety of tasks and activities considering the different learning styles and needs. For instance, many students might learn better by journaling while others prefer sharing with their peers.
  • by product – Product differentiation is when we differentiate on assessment. Tests are not the only way students can showcase their learning; teachers use various ways of assessment e.g., projects, portfolios, quizzes, presentations, group work, peer assessment etc.

As one can easily understand, the possibilities to differentiate are endless, as much as the different learning profiles of our students. 

By investing in differentiation, we ensure a school culture that promotes equity and inclusion for the school community and the development of multiple pathways to excellence for all students and teachers.