Differentiated learning can occur in virtually any phase of a learning sequence. Here are some ways in which open work time can be used:
Introduction. If students enter a unit of study with very different backgrounds, it may be appropriate to introduce the material in different ways based on their prior knowledge. In a physics class, for instance, a student with strong mathematical skills may need a different introduction than a student who struggles with algebraic equations. While some students can, from the beginning of a unit, dive into more sophisticated understanding, others may need a slower and more deliberate introduction.
Exploration. During the exploration of new material, differentiated activities should be available for students with varying levels of prior knowledge or adeptness in grasping new concepts or skills.
Individual work/metacognition. An individual student’s work can be differentiated to allow her to assess her own understanding at the appropriate level of challenge. Based on feedback, a student could choose more or less challenging work, , whether in class or at home, and have the experience of assessing her level of mastery at that level.
Conversational learning. Within open work time, structures that encourage students to share the wealth can be created, whether in study groups or ad hoc groupings.
Review. Before any test or exam, sufficient feedback, perhaps in the form of a pre-test, can allow individual a student to identify and review those specific aspects of the material that she hasn’t yet mastered.
Remediation. Learning from one’s mistakes should, of course, be based on what mistakes each student has made on an assessment. Differentiation of both review and remediation are discussed in detail in “Making Tests Meaningful”.
In every phase of a learning sequence, it is important to consider the range of needs of individual students, and to use differentiated activities to respond to those needs.