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Differentiated Reading Instruction

In this webcast, Carol Ann Tomlinson, G. Michael Pressley, and Louise Spear-Swerling outline the most effective strategies teachers can use to address the many different needs of each of their students — so that all kids get the chance to learn to read.

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Program description

Robert reads well in Spanish but speaks very little English. Marisa has trouble decoding basic stories. And Ms. Johnson, their second grade teacher, must teach them both to read — along with 23 other students. How? She must differentiate classroom instruction.

This webcast outlines the most effective strategies teachers can use to address the many different needs of each of their students — so that kids capable of learning to read, like Robert and Marisa, won’t fall behind.


Carol Ann Tomlinson is a professor in the educational leadership, foundations and policy department at the University of Virginia. Her career as an educator includes 21 years as a public school teacher, with 12 years as a program administrator of special services for struggling and advanced learners.

G. Michael Pressley is a professor of educational psychology and teacher education. In recent years, his most notable work has been documenting the nature of primary-grade classrooms where engagement and achievement are high.

Louise Spear-Swerling is a professor of special education and the reading and area coordinator of the Graduate Program in learning disabilities at Southern Connecticut State University.

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Discussion questions

  1. After listening to the panel discuss differentiated reading instruction, discuss ways in which you are already providing differentiated reading instruction within your classroom. Provide specific examples of instructional choices and grouping practices that you make to provide students with multiple options for taking in information, making sense of ideas, and expressing what they learn based on readiness and interest.
  2. The four key aspects of differentiated instruction are modification of content, process, product, and learning environment. Reflect on a lesson or an activity that you use in your own reading program. Provide some examples of how you might modify this lesson to meet the different learning needs of all of your students.
  3. The panelists discussed the importance of using pre-assessment activities to determine the individual needs of your students. Once again reflect on a lesson or a unit that you use in your language arts or reading program. What types of pre-assessment activities could you develop to determine the level of understanding of each student? How could you use this information to differentiate instruction?
  4. Carol Tomlinson tells us that curriculum is the ultimate identifier of potential. Do you agree with this statement? How can a differentiated curriculum help you to identify potential in your students? Conversely, how can a differentiated curriculum help you to better serve those students who struggle with reading?