Differentiation to Engage All Learners

Differentiation in Middle & High School: Strategies to Engage All Learners
By Kristina J. Doubet and Jessica A. Hockett
(ASCD, 2015 – Learn more)

anne-anderson-2014Reviewed by Anne Anderson

Differentiation in Middle & High School: Strategies to Engage All Learners is designed to be used! No matter one’s level of experience with differentiation, this book offers classroom-tested strategies that can be easily implemented.

differentiation mid high andersonThe introduction, “Is This Even Possible?,” is a must-read to clear up any misconceptions on what differentiation is and is not. “Used well,” the authors promise, “this book and its tools have the potential to upgrade what happens in middle and high school classrooms and, ultimately, to improve the learning and the lives of both teachers and their students.”(p.5) Readers will discover nine chapters filled with both solid research and common sense.

Each chapter consists of two parts: a question, followed by appropriate Tools and Strategies. Part 1 of each chapter ends with how one of four classroom teachers applied the featured strategies in his/her classroom. With the numerous classroom and content- specific examples provided, a reader will better understand that differentiation has “all students…working toward the same learning goals.” (p.43)

A chapter by chapter view

Chapter 1 – Building a Healthy Classroom Community
How Do I Set the Tone?

Chapter 2 – Articulating Learning Goals
How Do I Determine What I Have to Teach?

Chapter 3 – Constructing Useful Pre-Assessments
How Do I Know What Students Already Know?

Chapter 4 – Hooking Students into Instruction
How Do I Get Students to Care?

Chapter 5 – Providing Interactive Learning Experiences
How Do I Help Students Make Sense of It?

Chapter 6 – Checking for Understanding Using Formative Assessment
Is My Teaching Working?

Chapter 7 – Differentiating According to Student Readiness
What If Students Are in Different Places?

Chapter 8 – Designing Differentiated Transfer Tasks for Assessment
Do Students Get It?

Chapter 9 – Navigating Potential Roadblocks to Implementing Differentiation
How Do I Keep This Sane?

Making what’s hard a bit easier

Somewhere near the end of the book, the authors state “all teaching is hard.” Throughout this resource they provide teachers with the resources to make teaching – and, specifically differentiation – a bit easier. Doubet and Hockett were thinking like teachers and thinking of teachers with the layout of the various strategies:

  • Strategy Name
  • What It Is
  • How It Works
  • What It’s Good For
  • Tips
  • Classroom Example

Readers may recognize some strategies, know them by another name, or use them for a different purpose. The Relationship-Building Activities in Chapter 1 include Attendance Questions, Pie Charts, Who Is It, Life Sound-Track, and Piecing Together Community. Any of these activities will set the tone for a productive learning environment.

In Chapter 5, the authors address obstacles that teachers face when providing interactive learning experiences: Limited Attention Spans, Dependence on Traditional Lecture, Unstructured Whole-Class Discussion, and Reliance on Recall Questions. The strategies they offer focus on “increasing the quality of whole-class learning and teaching.” (p.112)

Differentiation in Middle & High School: Strategies to Engage All Learners is a practical resource that should be included in your school’s professional library. This resource will help those teachers, and administrators, who are serious about engaging all students in meaningful learning.

ASCD offers a Study Guide for this title. Select forms and templates are available for download from ASCD.


Anne Anderson finally got out of the 8th grade after 24 years and 9 weeks. She spent the next 9 years sharing her expertise in literacy and writing with K-12 teachers and administrators throughout the district. She credits National Writing Project and Poetry Alive! as turning points in her growth as a teacher. She now shares her expertise nationwide as an educational consultant and through her website and her bi-monthly newsletter, Spotlight on Success.


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