Online Course: Differentiated Instruction and Lesson Planning

***This thread has been cross-posted in the Math and Numeracy, Science, and Reading and Writing groups.

The LINCS Learning Portal houses self-paced, freely accessible online courses developed by U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education-funded initiatives

This discussion thread is related to the LINCS online course entitled Differentiated Instruction and Lesson Planning that is available in the LINCS Learning Portal. During and after you complete the course, you are prompted to write reflections on the issues below. Please share your thoughts and experiences with your colleagues.

  • Consider a lesson you currently teach. How would using differentiated instruction change it?
  • Consider a lesson you currently teach. Does it have effective learning objectives that are specific, observable and measurable? If so, how do these shape the lesson? If not, how would effective learning objectives change the lesson?
  • Write a reflection on how what you learned in this course shaped the lesson plan you produced and/or the success of your lesson.




Actually, Jean, if something is observable, it is usually measurable. In other words, if you can see the outcome for something, you can certainly find a way to grade it, hopefully by rubrics since I am a strong supporter of performance-based assessment. You may just be referring to feeling that you might be more specific in stating your measuring.That makes sense. Thanks for sharing. Leecy

In a lesson that I currently teach after I teach the sill I provide students with a series of worksheets for them to practice the skill just learned. They start with an easy skill practice sheet, then do a harder skill practice sheet, and finish with a TABE worksheet that has them answer a series of multiple choice questions which ends with 5-6 word problems. In order to further differentiate the lesson I can have students choose which worksheets they want to do and not have do the whole series of worksheets. This would allow students to choose their own level and pace to practice the skill taught. 

Jeanne, you've described effective practices for further differentiating your reinforcement activities. You might also consider reviewing Bloom's list of action verbs and having students extend their learning by asking them to reflect or respond to items at different levels of Bloom! Thanks. Leecy

Leecy Wise, Moderator, Reading and Writing, and Diversity and Literacy CoPs


This course is valuable because it refreshes what we all should already know.  Unfortunately, I have always known the theories but never put them to practice. Once I actually used what was covered in this class, it made lesson planning much easier. I will use this everyday in my classroom.

This is a well put together course.

By having very specific and measurable objectives and differentiating the activities, my students enjoyed the class period. I paired weaker students with stronger students to complete a task. With out strong objectives and a rubric, my students would have never known what the expectations of the task were. All of this was from the direct result of taking this course.

Thank you.

You statement resounds strongly in my heart and bones, Steven. Strong objectives and an effective rubric, both written in student language, pave the way to great learning. Thanks!

Leecy Wise, Moderator, Reading and Writing, and Diversity and Literacy CoPs



I like the way that you paired weaker students with stronger students to complete a task. I also have success with this technique in the class that I teach. I have found that students respond well from having other students help them and that it works well to hear the process explained in a peer's voice.


I am really interested in the course many of you are doing with regard to lesson plans. The discussion I have read seems to be very positive about the value of this on line course. Would any of you care to comment please.


Ed Pirie

Central Vermont Adult Basic, Education, Inc.


Ed, are you asking for sample plans that people are developing? Unfortunately, this forum doesn't allow attachments. However, if you want to send me your plans, I'll post them on the Web and add a link here for all to see. Additionally, it would be fantastic for you to license your work under Creative Commons, so that others can modify and share, with attribution to you, of course. Leecy (email below!)

Leecy Wise, Moderator, Reading and Writing, and Diversity and Literacy CoPs


This was a nice review of what I learned earlier in my teaching career. I recently did a lesson on perimeter of a triangle. My tier 1 students needed to complete the exercises at the rate of 80% accuracy with integers, fractions, and decimal measurements. My tier 2 students needed to complete the exercises at the rate of 80% accuracy with variables and constants denoting the measurements. Both groups also worked backward in figuring out a missing side given the perimeter and having two of the three sides. I regularly practice differentiated instruction, but it was nice to review the points why I do so. 

My lesson plan was specific, measurable, and observable. They shape the lesson by having the students engage in activities that I can see in the classroom and sets a standard for them to achieve. My lesson went well as all my students accomplished the goal of 80% accuracy. 

I teach in the education department of the local community college and I am also a credentialed trainer. I will probably use this more for my college classes where I see the students weekly and they have many written assignments that need to be handed in throughout the semester. I have always had a big range of the abilities of the students in my class, some because English is their second language. I will begin to look at the students abilities differently to see how grading will be done. I have always been tough on their written assignments. I felt if they were communicating with parents, they should be able to write proper English. As for those who wrote with the slang that they speak, it will be more difficult. Any suggestions?

I teach a Lab I and Lab II class through a local community college. I can see now that my objectives need to be more specific. We want the Lab students to interact with the children but that is all it says. I think we need to add a percentage to this. It has to be reasonable because they do have some writing to do in the classroom - observation, specific journal entries to name a few. I need to look them over and see what can be done.

Val and all others in this forum, if you want to share a few objectives here for comment, I and others, I'm sure, will be glad to comment. I'll be waiting! Thanks, Leecy

Leecy Wise, Moderator, Reading and Writing, and Diversity and Literacy CoPs


Currently in my social studies class students are given a current event article that has interesting content and is understandable by students at all levels, I have the students work together in groups discussing what they have learned and determining the answers to questions that are posed to them.  Once everyone has completed their assignment we come together to discuss the article using the questions as a prompt. The lesson is scaffolded in that there is some content that students at the lower level can easily understand, however there is some words that middle and upper level students will understand more quickly.  When they work in groups they have a chance to discuss at their level of understand and ask questions of each other.  Once we have completed the class discussion which often relates the article to current events heard on the news, I will also often pose questions that are not in the assigned content to encourage all students to relate it to various experiences and how they turned out.  An additional assignment is to have each student pick a few things from the article the didn't know and write a paper about it.  This encourages students to use additional skills of comprehension, analysis and application in their writing process. 

I teach a math lesson on how to divide fractions. Originally, I did not design the assessment before planning the activities and I found that for some students there was a disconnect in their learning process. It made it harder for them to grasp the full process of dividing with fractions. If I develop the assessment before hand and work my way backward in the lesson process I can assure that no steps are missed in the learning process. I think by doing this students will experience more complete comprehension from the lesson on dividing with fractions. 

Jeanne, thanks for your example and other comments here and in other responses on your practice differentiating instruction in your math classes. Yes, indeed, developing assessments beforehand help both you and your students focus on instruction much more. In fact, if you design projects that require students to apply fraction division, you can then design effective rubrics for performance and engage students even more. I believe that we've had a good discussion elsewhere in this forum about rubrics. I'm a super fan! Leecy
Leecy Wise, Moderator, Reading and Writing, and Diversity and Literacy CoPs

I don’t always design the assessment before I do lesson plans but then I generally use formative assessments and summative only at the end of a section. When I am teaching something like writing, I love using a rubric. I found, when I was in college, the rubric helped me stay focused and often provided the “how to” for the assignment.

Hi Jeanne,

Wendy Quinones here, author of the DI course. You've grasped one of the key principles of DI -- we need to know where we're going in order to plan how to get there. In my own process of learning to use DI, I discovered that while I had many wonderful activities that students loved, when it came time to figure out what they were to learn from these, I was sometimes stumped. It led to a lot of hard thinking and some loss of fun activities. But of course, fun isn't really the point, is it? You are so right -- working your way backwards from what you want students to learn (what Wiggins and McTighe  call "backward design" in their wonderful book Understanding  by Design) goes a long way to ensuring that no steps are missed. Nice work!

I teach a lesson on adding and subtracting fractions where the objective is for students to add and subtract fractions at an 80% accuracy. The activities match the learning objective because I can observe and measure their progress through the various levels of easier to harder worksheets that students work on either independently or in pairs. Also during class, at students' request I work different problems out on the board and have the class walk me through the process of the problems. This allows me to see which students understand the full process and allows the opportunity to reteach the process with students help through their understanding of what was taught. These activities ensure that the learning objective is met.

The ability to differentiate by content, process, or learning activities makes it vital that these align with the learning objectives and the assessments. It is also important to make sure that your learning activities support with your learning objectives. If I say, “the student will be able or the student will know”, it is important that my activities give them the tools to do what I’ve said. I often use formative assessments as it is a quick way to find out if my students are understanding the material or if I need to make an adjustment.

I think that this course helped me to realize the importance of working backward in the lesson process. I was able to create a lesson plan with clear objectives and activities that not only enhanced students learning, but clearly met the objectives. By having the assessment picked out first it made it easier to provide simple to complex material and have students begin with concrete problems and work towards abstract problems.

It is always important to be reminded of the connection between the learning objectives, assessments and activities. Long ago when training, I would spend a great deal of time on activities and never had clear objectives or assessments. Once I learned that there needed to be real purpose in what I do, it made so much more sense to take the time for the learning objectives and the assessments. This gave me real purpose for the activities. This course has been helpful in reminding me the backward planning process that I will be able to use. I also liked the ideas about differentiating for students based on readiness.

The lesson plan that I did was on dividing fractions and students were to divide fractions at 80% accuracy. After learning the skill with a video clip and with instruction on the white board, students were given the option to choose from easier to harder worksheets to practice the skill taught and to work either individually or with a partner. I did learn that I need to provide more options of harder worksheets for the students who did only the harder ones. The lesson went well and students completed the lesson at an 80% or higher accuracy. I found the information provided in this course very helpful and easy to use. Thanks.

The learning objectives will be the same for the students; however, the application and practice work for the lessons will be different. Activities for individual students will be based on their readiness such as meeting them where they are in knowledge and skills. Scaffolding may be needed for some students. The assessments will be aligned with the learning objectives.

It is very important to have learning objectives that are specific, observable, and measureable. If they are specific, your lesson may result in several outcomes because you got off track and wasted time covering too broad or too many topics. If they are not observable, it is hard for you or the students to see the action to take or demonstrate the performance you expect. Action words help students know what to do: compute, describe, write, create, etc.  If they are not measureable, then you will not know if the student has done what was requested and met the acceptable standard of performance. Using learning objectives will make your lessons more focused and help the student understand expectations.

Right on, Ruth, in every way. Thanks for contributing such useful comments, especially as they relate to stating effective learning objectives, which guide the rest of instruction. Thanks! Leecy


I face the same issues that you do in the correctional setting.  I don't have the answers on how to differentiate instruction to such a diverse group, hence the reason for taking this course.  I would appreciate any feedback you might have.

Marianne, I hope Steve and others are able to drop in to offer more suggestions.

Depending on the rules within your correctional institutions, inmates may or may not have access to technology even though the Internet is probably not allowed. I'm thinking of CDs or thumb drives, games, and other downloadable content that can be used from external drives.

Someone in LINCS proposed Internet in a Box as an alternative for use in environments that don't have or don't allow Web access. You might look into that tool if you are allowed to use technology at all. I'm a huge supporter of differentiating instruction using technology as students can be doing different things.

Grouping students and giving them different roles to accomplish a task or project is another way.

Using students as instructors also provides alternatives, where more accomplished students practice their creativity while teaching something they want to know. As research tells us, we learn what we teach.

I hope that others drop in to add more ideas. Thanks for asking. Leecy

The i-Pathways project has implemented a solution  (Internet in a box) that has successfully used. All of the features of the i-Pathways project are loaded on an Oasis servicer and then wired to computer labs - therefore no Internet is required, but all of the features of the learning management system with the curriuclum are available. It's the best combination of both worlds - technology to manage multi-level classes, live updates so the curriculum is never outdated, and a secure wired connection. Contact me offline if you have any questions about this solution. Kathy Tracey ( and 309-298-1804)



Hi Marianne,

Corrections is always such a challenging environment! I wish, as the author of this course, that it would provide you with all the answers, believe me. And I surely hope that you found more of them as you proceeded through the modules. There are few if any ready-made answers, though -- using DI as a lens for examining your experience and your setting will help you come up with your own unique solutions to your unique problems.


--Wendy Quinones

How would differentiated instruction change a lesson I currently teach? As an online AEL instructor, I know there many DI strategies can enhance the educational experience of online adult learners. I can offer students to access videos in addition to, or instead of just reading an online lesson text. Students can participate in Adobe Connect Lessons (a real-time meeting platform) with our instructors. Students may be assigned additional resources, such as SkillsTutor, to fill needed learning gaps.

Right on, Tina. Have you tried Voki? It's a free animation tool that allows you to create customizable  characters that talk. You can embed the code right into your discussions, new forums, etc.. Such fun. What ideas do others have here to add to Tina's? Leecy

Leecy Wise, Moderator, Reading and Writing, and Diversity and Literacy CoPs

Hi Tina,

What great ideas for working with DI online! I'm Wendy Quinones, author of the DI course, and I can see that you are grasping the concept brilliantly.  Have you tried any of these strategies?  I also teach high-school-level ABE  students online, and my students haven't been too receptive to these.  I'd love to hear your experiences.


Whenever I teach a lesson in math to my Seniors (at the Senior Center). I practice differentiated instruction. I was unaware that I was already pr acting DI. Some of my students are quick to tell me they have been out of school five, ten, fifteen and even more years and what an enormous stretch this class is/has been for them. It is truly rewarding to see 65-85 year older students working math problems (decimals, fractions, percents, etc.); especially when the light comes on and stays on. To see their self-confidence rise to a new level is just amazing. I just love watching them grow and move from one level of really "getting it" to the next. I will continue to follow the DI elements of learning objectives, assessment and tiered activities.

Hi Geraldine,

Wendy Quinones here, author of the DI course.  You are so right -- I always tell adult ed teachers that we all practice DI because we have to! The difference is whether we are winging it or have firm principles and techniques to rely on.  I hope the course helps you get even more light bulb moments.


This course has really helped me to focus on the differences in the ability levels of my students, and it has helped me with ideas to incorporate in lesson planning. While I did always think about the differences in ability levels, I didn't always plan for assessing the students differently. This course has helped me to see that I can even change the way I implement an assignment to alter the actual lesson itself one or another to help individual students. I also really enjoyed the writing assignment examples because that is the area in which I concentrate. 

Lori, that you will implement more differentiation in lesson planning is a big addition to the field. So many think of differentiation as individualization. Now you know better, and more, you know how to match that knowledge to assessments. Your students will benefit immensely!  Glad that you enjoyed the course! Leecy

Hi Lori,

Wendy Quinones here, author of the DI course. I love it that you are thinking about ways to include DI in your existing lessons. So many people feel they have to start all over, which makes the whole process that much more overwhelming. Primarily a writing teacher myself, I know how much DI helped me and my students.  Best of luck!

In the study of differentiated instruction I have noted the various elements it contains. I am aware of the different parts that are essential to Adult Education, especially ESL.. I has been that the development is also applicable to recognized that most of our classes are multilevel in nature; therefore the variables needed to teach the class is essential to the learning process for the students involved. The assessments are absolutely necessary to fine what and where the students are upon entering the class. You discover their thoughts, understanding, cultural and ideals and life experiences. Each of these adds to the learning process for the student. The further assessment during the process of the classes keep the instructor informed of the progress being made and what can be done to help further the students growth and success. the Final assessment may be applied in group work and testing and or writing projects to reflect the lesson outcome.

I also found and have use the " zone of proximal development" may be advantageous for those student which are unaware of their ability  to go beyond what  they image themselves to be capable. that element to difficulty always amazes them and they do receive a feeling of accomplishment and a desire to continue their classes

Elsie, thanks for your thoughtful and accurate comments re differentiation. So many people confuse the practice with individualization, which is a different approach.

I love that you bring up differentiation in assessment. To me, that is one of the most oft ignored aspects of differentiation. When we apply a variety of ways to assess student progress, we are helping different students learn much better. Thanks for the reminder of “zone of proximal development,” as well! Leecy

The principles make perfect sense to me. I used to write general objectives but now I will be specific. Students should be able to read four digit numbers and by the end of the lesson students should be able to write the number in words.

I took it for granted that students especially adults knew their basic numbers but now I will make sure that the activities are tiered  for  low beginners ,and high beginners.

I am definitely planning topics and activities that will enhance their culture and strengths using technology. I feel technology has become part and parcel of life today.



Wendy Quinones here, author of the DI course you're taking. I'm so glad the DI principles make sense to you Genita -- most of us find we've been using some of them in our classes purely out of necessity, but isn't it a relief to have a coherent framework?  You've done a good job with that LO, which can often be one of the most difficult things for teachers to grasp. I like it that while yours is specific, it leaves a lot of flexibility. Will the numbers be dictated? Will they be written in digits for students to translate into words? Will students simply produce numbers on their own? All -- and I imagine many more options -- are possible, and leave much room for tiers and differentiation. Well done!