Differentiated Instruction and Teaching Children with Learning Disabilities
By Janet W. Lerner and Frank Kline
Editors of Learning Disabilities: A Multidisciplinary Journal
The US. Department of Education (2008) reports that 87% of students with learning disabilities receive instruction in general education classes. This number includes both students whose educational placement is in the general education classroom for most of the day (52%) and students who are both in a resource room for part of the day and in a general education classroom for the balance of the day (35%).
General education teachers are often stymied when instruction designed for the general education student does not meet the needs of students with learning disabilities. These students need a different kind of instruction. Differentiated Instruction is recommended to general education teachers as one method to teach students with learning disabilities and other special learning needs in general education classes (Tomlinson, Brimijoin and Narvaez, 2008; Tomlinson, 2001).
It is interesting to note the many similarities between differentiated instruction and the philosophy and strategies for teaching special education students.
The term differentiated instruction reflects a philosophy of teaching that enables teachers to reach the unique needs of each student, capitalizing on the student’s strengths and weaknesses. Differentiated instruction embodies some of the qualities of special education teaching in the general education classroom.
Advocates of differentiated instruction note that one of the biggest mistakes we make in teaching is to treat everyone equally when it comes to learning. With the recognition that not all students are alike, differentiated instruction applies an approach to teaching and learning that gives students multiple options for taking in information and making sense of ideas.
Differentiated instruction recognizes that a one-size-fits-all curriculum simply will not work for all children. Children process information differently; some form images, others form words, and others form sentences.
Differentiated instruction takes their individual needs into account with teaching that responds to their personal talents, interests, varying background knowledge, and distinct experiences. In differentiated instruction, the teacher seeks to find the special methods that will be successful for an individual student to help that student learn (Lerner & Johns, 2011; Tomlinson, Brimijoin and Narvaez, 2008; Tomlinson, 2001).