Using Assessment to Differentiate Instruction

Greetings Blogosphere!

If you’ve been around the DEN any at all, you’ve probably seen that Discovery Education and Wilkes University launched an online master’s degree program in instructional media last year. Well, not only am I an assessment nerd, I happen to be a bit of a geek (which explains why I am blogging!) So, I’ve been checking out some of the courses. This session, I am taking the course in assessment. For me, this is a fun course since I am getting to see classmates get excited about using formative assessment to drive instruction. I am also taking the course on differentiating instruction. (btw, I spell it differientiating  EVERY single time and spell checker saves me!) Now that I’ve confessed my inability to spell it, let me ask… do you know what differentiating instruction means?

In 2007, ISTE published Differentiating Instruction with Technology in K-5 Classrooms by Grace E. Smith and Stephanie Throne. I mention their names because not only did they write the textbook, but they also wrote the course and are teaching it this session! They explain in the text,

“Differentiated instruction focuses on teaching strategies that give diverse students multiple options for taking in and processing information, making sense of ideas, and expressing learning.”

Is it possible to give diverse students multiple options without assessment? I vote no. To differentiate by interest, teachers must assess student interest. This may be done through informal observations, interviews, or surveys. But, all of these are a type of assessment. In my experience as a special educator, I frequently used assessment to differentiate instruction by need. Typically, I’d use some sort of curriculum-based measure to determine students’ performance in reading fluency, comprehension, written expression, mathematics computation and reasoning. Using assessment tools, I was able to temporarily group students for specific lessons or units based on their needs. These freed up a lot of time and prevented a lot of behavior problems since students were working on appropriate assignments and frustration/boredom was minimized.

Using assessment tools, teachers can determine what students are interested in, their learning style, and what skills they need help on. This allows teachers to make decisions about what to teach and how to deliver the instruction to provide students the best opportunity to learn. That’s what differentiating instruction is all about!

Until next time!

Your Friendly Assessment Nerd, Porter



  1. Cindy said:

    Hi Porter,

    I am so glad that you have an awesome instruction team for the course. I too am a student in the same program and love it!

    Good Luck and hope to see you in a course soon.

  2. RJ Stangherlin said:

    Hi, Porter,

    I finally got that post about your and your blog up on PA. I read your posts first, and followed your pages, and learned so much from you. Is there any way that I could know a bit in advance when your monthly webinars will occur and any online chats. I would love to put them on our PA DE Events Google Calendar. PA LC contacts (emails…) are on PA blog on a tabbed page.

    Thank you so much for what you do in bringing exciting differentiation assessment resources to us. I love seeing your “Greetings, Blogosphere” in my GR.

  3. Porter Palmer said:

    RJ, I’ll be sure to let you know about upcoming webinars. We’re planning to do a professional development series on assessment in the near future. I’ll be sure you know! Thanks for the great post.

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