Differentiation of Content, Process, and Product with Examples

Differentiation occurs in three ways: content, process, and product. First, teachers can alter the resources students use. That’s easy. Second, they can vary what kids can do. Finally, teachers can change what kids create. Read on for ideas and examples.

When she was a new teacher, Ms. Sneed’s mentor helped her plan for instruction. After establishing classroom starting points, they planned units of study. First, the two teachers deconstructed a standard. Second, they scaffolded learning so kids would master the concepts. Mrs. Brown taught her mentee to create interdisciplinary units and only use the textbook as a resource. Things were actually going pretty well, but…

Ms. Sneed Learns About Differentiation of Content, Process, and Product

Unfortunately, Ms. Sneed had no idea how to differentiate instruction. Her mentor tried to help. But Ms. Sneed still didn’t get it. “Looks like it’s time for some PD,” said Mrs. Brown. She pulled out a flyer.

“This workshop is coming up. It explains differentiation of content (resources kids use), process (how they use them), and product (what they create.) I’m sure it will get you going.”

Ms. Sneed signed up that day.

Differentiation in the classroom occurs three ways: content, process, and product.
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Three Types of Differentiation

On the day of the workshop, Ms. Sneed sat down at a table with three other teachers. “As our flyer stated,” began the presenter, “there are three basic types of differentiation: content, process, and product. We’ll explore each. Then you’ll discuss possible applications in your group and look at some examples. Let’s get going.

Differentiation of Content

“The first thing you can differentiate is content. To me, this is easiest to understand. You just change up student learning materials. For example, the reading level may be higher. Kids may be asked to explore more resources, or a broader range of resources, or resources at a deeper level. Sometimes you may even ask them to utilize totally different learning materials.

“Let’s take a few minutes to discuss how you might differentiate the content in your class. You’ll find a sheet in the middle of the table. Please write three examples for each subject.”

Ms. Sneed and her group got busy. “Wow, this is harder than I thought,” said one teacher. Eventually, they wrote three examples in each part:

Reading – same passage at different levels, different passages at different levels, different number of texts

Research – different levels of research materials, levels of independence, amounts of sources

Math – same problems, different number; different problems from the same set; different content altogether

Science – different related reading, level of complexity, amounts of exploration

As the groups shared their ideas, Ms. Sneed started to get the hang of it. “Remember, to reach each you teach, you need to change up the content,” said the presenter. “And just a word of warning: Start with your grade-level expectations and differentiate up, not down. When you make instruction easier than what the standards expect, you’re not differentiating. Instead, you’re modifying the curriculum. That strategy should only be used for students who are identified as special education students – and whose IEPs say it’s okay.”

Examples of differentiation of content for reading, research, math, and science instruction

Content Differentiation Examples

Next, the presenter displayed a one-page passage on the screen. “Let’s look at one example of differentiation of content: leveled texts. For instance, this version would work well for able readers.”

As she showed two more pages, she said, “However, this one uses simpler words and shorter sentences. And the third is even easier.”

Leveled texts are a great way to differentiate content.

Differentiation of Process

After their break, the presenter moved on. “Differentiating the process may be most difficult for teachers. For this, what kids do is altered. You’ll have to really think about ways to change student activity during regular instruction. Again, write three strategies in each section.”

The group set to work. “For reading, I usually have kids construct responses,” said Ms. Sneed. “I guess better readers could use transition terms and add conclusions.”

As the page filled up, Ms. Sneed frowned slightly.

Reading – different expectations for responses, types of responses, approaches to text

Research – different organizers, sources, amounts, citing

Math – different ways to do same problems, manipulatives, levels of support

Science – different methods used, levels of independence, levels of complexity.

“Wow,” Ms. Sneed said to herself. “I really need to change. Up until this point, I’ve always asked my entire class to do the same thing.”

Once again, the groups reported back. “This will require a big shift in my teaching,” said a man at the table next to Ms. Sneed’s.

“Yes,” replied the presenter, “many teachers say this. However, once you get started, it becomes second nature. When I was teaching, I thought about it when I did my lesson plans and made a little note.

“Furthermore – and I’m sure you’ll take great comfort in this – you don’t need to use more than one form of differentiation in a single lesson. For example, if you’re asking kids to read leveled texts, it’s probably okay to ask everyone to do the same activity. In addition, some lessons don’t require differentiation. Don’t overthink it. Just do what’s right for all the kids in your classroom, and you’ll be fine.” Several teachers let out sighs of relief.

Differentiation of process changes what the kids do or the way they think.

Process Examples

Once again, the presenter provided some differentiation examples. This time, they explored options for biography projects. “For this research project on famous inventors, the teacher has four options. She can choose one for each level – or provide multiple pages for some levels.”

When researching, simply provide different organizers (or different numbers of organizers) to differentiate instruction.

Differentiation of Product

“Now it’s time for our final type of differentiation. Changing up the product serves several purposes. Sure, it helps you meet the learning needs of all of your students. But it also has the power to engage them. As teachers, we have a tendency to ask kids to complete the same products – over and over again. Moreover, those products tend to be – well, frankly – rather boring.”

Teachers at Ms. Sneed’s tables looked at each other with raised eyebrows. Ms. Sneed grimaced. What a harsh truth.

“So,” continued the presenter, “for your next group discussion, I’d like you to fill each section with as many different kinds of products you can think of. Just brainstorm.”

Ms. Sneed’s group had no trouble filling in their sheet.

Reading – instead of a response, ask for a response cube, poster or drawing, retelling, graphic organizer, craft, story arc, video

Research – instead of a paper, ask kids to create a flip booklet, digital presentation, Venn diagram, Jeopardy game, website, coloring book, comic book

Math – instead of a problem set, ask kids to create how-to posters, projects, crafts, games, story problems, illustrations, skits

Science – instead of a lab report, ask for photographs, presentations, articles, demonstrations, related experiments, prototypes, illustrations

“Hey, this is sorta fun,” said the lady sitting across the table.

Ms. Sneed smirked. “Yeah, and our classes would be more fun if we actually used these.”

As other groups shared their ideas, Ms. Sneed made a list. Shaking up products would be first on Ms. Sneed’s agenda. And although it made her rather uncomfortable, she would give her students some choices too.

Let kids create! Instead of just worksheets, differentiate with a bunch of products - and give them some choice!

Product Examples

“Choice boards,” said the presenter, “are one of the best ways to differentiate. After all, you choose the requirements, but kids choose the product.” He displayed some biography choice boards and cards.”

“Hey,” though Ms. Sneed, “I really like this!” She scribbled down some differentiation examples for her class’s next project.

Choice boards are a great way to differentiate products.

One Foot in Front of the Other

Differentiation may seem daunting to you. Surprisingly, once you begin adjusting lessons to student needs, teaching feels better. With a little effort, you can make your classroom a more enjoyable space – for your students and you. Start small. Try one little thing. Then put one foot in front of the other. Before long, you’ll be a pro at differentiating content, process, and product.

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