Four Ways to Differentiate Objectives

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Photo by Waisian

… a differentiated classroom provides different avenues to acquiring content, to processing or making sense of ideas, and to developing products.”

Carol Tomlinson in How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms

Creating a differentiated learning environment for gifted students doesn’t mean throwing out everything you learned in your teaching career. Rather, there are simple, systematic ways to adjust curriculum to benefit your gifted learners.

More about these four ways can be found in Kaplan & Gould’s The Flip Book and Flip Book, Too.

Where To Differentiate

To begin differentiating for your gifted classroom, consider a standard lesson objective. This objective includes the following, and each is an opportunity to increase rigor.

  • Thinking Skill: The verb – what students will be doing
  • Content: The content – what students will be learning
  • Resource: The information – where students will get information
  • Product: The result – what students will create

Original Objective

Let’s begin with a standard lesson objective for sixth grade social studies in California:

“Students will list three tools early humans used to survive using chapter one, lesson three from their social studies book.”
  • Thinking Skill: list
  • Content: tools of early humans
  • Resource or Research Skill: a lesson from the textbook
  • Product: a list of three tools

Differentiate Thinking Skill Using Bloom’s Taxonomy

Our original objective had a very low level thinking skill: listing. Let’s increase the rigor of this objective by raising the thinking skill using Bloom’s Taxonomy:

“Students will judge the three most important tools of early man using chapter one, lesson three of their social studies book and create a ranked list.”

Now our students are required to judge importance, ranking the three most important tools. Nothing else has changed, yet the our students’ thinking process will become more complex and will generate a deeper understanding of the content.

In some cases, you may need to alter the product to accommodate the thinking skill. If students are to “dramatize” the use of three tools, then they’ll probably need to create a skit rather than a list.

Differentiate Content Using Thinking Tools

Note: My professional development is influenced by Sandra Kaplan (from nearby USC). The thinking tools she helped develop (Depth and Complexity and Content Imperatives) are easy ways to increase the rigor of content.

So far, our content has remained the same in each of the three objectives: three tools of early humans. Let’s try differentiating the content using a dimension of depth while returning to the original “list” thinking skill:

“Students will list three examples of patterns in tools amongst the various early humans described in chapter one, lesson three of their social studies book.”

Here we have incorporated patterns into our content. Instead of just listing tools, students might note that all early humans created weapons or civilizations by the sea used similar materials to construct their tools. Now, students are engaging with relationships and larger abstractions.

As another example, let’s differentiate the content in this objective by considering origins:

“Students will list three tools of modern humans that originated with a similar tools of early humans using chapter one, lesson three of their social studies book.”

Other ways to differentiate this content could include: ethical problems of tools, trends in tools, multiple perspectives of tools, etc.

Differentiate Resources

Gifted learners will quickly sap a grade-level textbook of information. By providing a wide range of resources, you enable students to access the curriculum in deeper ways. Rather than chapter one, lesson one, offer:

  • encyclopedias
  • newspapers
  • magazines
  • internet sources
  • expert interviews
  • alternate textbooks
  • non-fiction sources
  • maps
  • art

And so on. This may be the most difficult piece to differentiate since these resources must be physically available for students. However, it can also lead to some incredible learning – watch as students surpass your own knowledge!

Differentiating Product

Finally, you can differentiate the product to increase rigor. This is also a fantastic place to introduce choice. Taking our original objective and offering three different product choices will connect to three different modes of learning:

“Students will list three tools early humans used to survive using lesson three of their social studies book. Student may create a song, an advertisement, or a mini-encyclopedia.”

David Chung offers a great menu of products on his class website (pdf).

Electronic Version

Based on these ideas, I created The Differentiator to help you quickly and easily develop differentiated objectives.

When to Differentiate Objectives

  • When teaching whole group, use these ideas to create a more rigorous lesson for your classroom.
  • When developing flexible groups, use these ideas to create levels of rigor for students with different needs.
  • When planning for students with multiple exceptionalities, differentiate their objective to meet their individualized goals.
  • Offer your whole group choice from three versions of an objectives and allow them to self-differentiate. The results may be interesting.


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Feel free to get in touch: ian@byrdseed.com, @ByrdseedGifted, Facebook, or .

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