Differentiated Instruction with Technology

By Michael Hilkemeijer


When planning on developing student ICT capability in the classroom it is essential that you do cater for the individual learning styles that exist. It is significant that you reflect on the impact of these learning styles and the role of ICT within them.


A learning style is a set of characteristics that influences the teaching approach of a teacher to a student.


In this article you will learn:

  • What is differentiation in the classroom?
  • Differentiation in Early Childhood Education.
  • Differentiation in Primary Education.
  • Learning progression and differentiated instruction with technology.
  • Technology features that support differentiated instruction.
  • Strategies for differentiated instruction in Literacy-technology integration.
  • Effective learning environments for differentiated instruction with technology
  • Affordances and Scaffolding for differentiated instruction.
  • Examples of differentiated instruction with technology.



Differentiation in the classroom


Differentiation goes hand-in-hand with teachers being accountable for catering to different learning styles. It is a complex area which means the ability to match the level or type of task to the potential level of each child.


The Importance of Differentiation in the Classroom

As teachers, we need to differentiate in the classroom because children are complex and the old teaching styles of the past just don’t work and allow for all children to learn equally.


The lack of understanding about what differentiation is a key problem in the classroom. You must not believe it to mean the ‘dumbing down’ of activities. It is about you providing students choice to avoid discrimination.

Further benefits of differentiation in the classroom are covered in the following sections.



Differentiation in Early Childhood Education

Differentiation in the early years education is important in learning environments found in preschool and kindergartens as child learning and development is paramount at this stage of life.


Early childhood teachers take the time to select different materials for each individual child to provide equal learning opportunities. It also then enables engagement with less boredom and frustration from children.


Differentiation can occur in an early childhood setting when they play. However, before you this happens it is essential that you know the children individually. Talk and listen to them so that you know what they are capable of doing.


An important technique to remember when laying out floor material is to ask yourself “Can all children use this?” Consider those who can and can’t.



Differentiation in Primary Schools

Differentiated instruction in the primary classroom is just as imperative as it is in the early years. The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers now require that teachers must “Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of strategies for differentiating teaching to meet the specific learning needs of students across the full range of abilities”.


Every student is an individual who learns at different rates and in different ways. According to NESA (2020), individual differences may include:

  • Cognitive abilities, including students’ current level of understanding and ability in relation to a particular topic or skill
  • Prior learning experiences
  • Learning styles and preferences
  • Motivation and engagement with learning
  • Interests and talents.


When you plan for differentiation, you provide opportunities for students to:

  • Demonstrate, in different ways, what they know, understand and can do at different points of the learning cycle
  • Discuss with their teachers their preferred learning style and new ways of learning
  • Explore, experiment and engage with the concepts and principles underpinning what they learn
  • Develop higher-order thinking and creative and critical thinking skills.




Differentiated Instruction and Technology

Learning Progression

Early childhood and primary education teachers need to ensure that children experience a curriculum that allows them to develop their own knowledge and skills as they grow older and mature.

Planning for learning progression in ICT capability requires that you are to have a good level of knowledge of each students’ capabilities in ICT. This implies some sort of differentiated approach used to cater to the different learning styles of individual students.

Yet planning for learning progression in ICT capability is one of the many issues faced by early childhood and primary education teachers today. Teachers are challenged to plan ICT activities that can help their children develop ICT capability and ICT literacy.

Some of these difficulties are associated with a lack of confidence with ICT while others are to do with how the ICT activities can be structured for learning progression across a series of applications.


ICT aids differentiation by providing students with opportunities to:

  • Work on challenges appropriate to their abilities;
  • Take a more active role in their own learning;
  • Try out things without fear of being humiliated in front of their peers;
  • Follow a flexible route towards the learning goals and;
  • Maximise their independence as learners.

(Kennewell, Parkinson, & Tanner, 2000, p. 166)



Technology Features That Support Differentiated Instruction 

According to Smith and Throne (2007,p14-15), there are nine categories of instructional strategies for differentiation in the classroom.  I really like this of differentiated teaching strategies as it makes clear the connections between the corresponding elements. 

The table is divided into three areas: Effective instructional strategies, Application to the differentiated classroom and, Technology for differentiated instruction.


Effective Instructional Strategies Application to differentiated classroom Technology for differentiated instruction
Recognising similarities and differences

Graphic organisers such as Venn diagrams and Comparison matrix.

Represent similarities and differences in graphic or symbolic form.

Sorting, classifying, and using metaphors and analogies.

Inspiration and Kidspiration Software

Web-based/downloadable graphic organisers

Word processing tables
Summarising information and taking notes

Beginning, middle, end

Clarifying information

Teacher-prepared and student-prepared comments.


Cornell Note-taking forms

Inspiration and Kidspiration software


Read-Write-Think Notetaker

Word processing notes
Reinforcing effort and providing recognition

Effective praise and rewards.

Effort and achievement rubrics and charts.

Personalising recognition.

Success stories of people who persisted during difficult times.

Kids are authors

Microsoft Publisher certificates

Online certificates

Personal achievement logs

Word processing feedback notes
Homework and practice

Planners and organisers.

Vary student and teacher feedback.

Content-related software

Homework help sites to extend learning beyond the classroom.

Word processing planners and organisers.

Non-linguistic representations:

  • Creating graphic representations
  • Drawing pictures and pictographs
  • Engaging in kinaesthetic activity
  • Generating mental pictures
  • Making physical models

Cause and effect organisers.

Concept organisers.

Drawing pictures, illustrations and pictographs.

Physical models and movement.

Time-sequence organisers.

Digital cameras

Graph Club software

PowerPoint software

Excel spreadsheet

Paint software

Kid Pix software
Cooperative and collaborative learning groups by ability, interest and other criteria

Flexible groups by interest, learning style and readiness.

Individual and group accountability.

Vary groups by size and objectives.

Think-pair-share strategy.

Group investigations

Individual and group assessment

Jigsaw groups

Multimedia software

Scavenger hunts


Setting objectives and providing feedback

Learning contracts for achieving specific goals.

Ongoing assessment.




Student-led feedback

Teacher feedback that timely, specific and constructive.

Electronic journaling

Learning logs (MS Word)

Project-based learning checklists

RbuiStar and other rubric generators

Word processing checklists

Word processing contracts
Generating and testing hypothesis

Decision making

Historical investigation


Making predictions

Problem solving

PowerPoint slideshows

Internet search

Word or Publisher reports, mini-books, and advertisements
Questions, cues and advance organisers

Advance organisers

Anticipation guides

Cubing and ThinkDots Activities

KWL charts

Pause after asking questions.

Word narrative advance organiser

Online or Word created KWL


Providing a range of levels of abilities in the class

A student’s abilities consist of not one single attribute, but prior knowledge and experience of subject matter, ICT, literacy, numeracy and other key skills and learning styles. It is important that you build up a profile of each student’s abilities and not base your expectations of what individuals can achieve either on the perceived ability of the whole class.

The strategies that you can use to cater for different abilities include (Kennewell, 2004, pp. 150-1):

Task – there can be different tasks or different variations of the same task set for different students. The tasks can cover the same topic, but the less able may have more limited learning objectives or they may be expected to address them in a simpler way.

Response – the same task is set for all students, but it can be completed successfully in many different ways. The most able students are encouraged to produce responses that are deeper, more complex, more detailed or wider-ranging than less able students.

Support – the same task is set and the same sort of response is expected from all students, but the most able are expected to manage their own learning to a large extent so that the teacher’s time can be spent providing scaffolding for the less able. This strategy can also be implemented by using mixed ability groups, so that much of the support for the less able can be given by the more able.

Resource – a variation of the above, in which students’ work on the task is less dependent on scaffolding from the teacher, and depends largely on whether they can work independently with the resources.



How does ICT provide differentiated instruction in these strategies?

Differentiated instruction with ICT can b achieved in the following ways:

Differentiation by Task

ICT can be used in the classroom for project-based learning and in this situation different students can be working on different aspects of the topic in their project. As a result, you can set project briefs suitable for particular students or groups.

Differentiation by Response

One of the prominent features of ICT is interactivity. This feature allows students to go beyond the basic learning objectives for the class as they make and test their own conjectures.

Differentiation by Support

As a teacher, you can support students in their understanding of topics by asking questions that probe into various aspects of topics or you can use the speed of ICT to switch between various resources such as video clips to help emphasise and clarify students’ responses if they struggle to understand something.

Differentiation by Resource

ICT can aid the teacher I preparation of a range of related resources in the same time that a single resource could be produced using manual methods.

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Differentiated Instruction with Technology


Examples of Differentiated Instruction with Technology

There are many ways in which differentiated instruction with technology can be achieved. Here are a few ideas:

List 1

List 2



Benefits of differentiated instruction

Understanding the Need for Differentiated Instruction

There are many benefits of differentiation instruction and in this list, I will outline them to you the importance of differentiating the curriculum today.


So how does differentiation benefit all learners? Well, as all classrooms today continue to recognise the individual learning styles of students and their cultural backgrounds, languages and preferences for learning methods, as you will need to take into consider these benefits of differentiation in your planning. This is to ensure that all students are able to perform academically.


Positive Results

Research has indicated that if you consistently differentiated content then positive results will occur. Differentiated instruction also ensures that students are challenged from low-ability to high ability students. The particular study found that by differentiating the curriculum along with revising and using flexible grouping may significantly improve students’ achievements.


IEPs are boosted

Even the gifted students can benefit from differentiated instruction. By using visual aids, manipulatives, charts, audiotapes and the computer you can enrich the curriculum for gifted students. Studies have even shown that it can improve reading levels in primary/elementary grades.


Differentiated Instruction benefits everyone

You can differentiated instruction by adjusting content, process or product in classroom. There is not a ‘one size fits all approach’ when it comes to differentiating the curriculum. It is important that you use various guiding principles such as that listed above for technology use. It is also significant that you respond to individual students’ prior knowledge, learning style and levels of interest and engagement. Group students by shared interest, topic, or ability ensuring that each group should be kept flexible.


Differentiating the curriculum

This has already been noted above, but it should be understood that this type of differentiating should include ‘do overs’. Instead of just getting students to hand in a report on what they have just learned, why can’t this be considered as a draft. Do overs can be considered as a form of differentiated teaching.



The above indicates the importance of differentiation in teaching and learning. We live in a world of many different learning styles as a result of the many different people we have living in our society. Therefore, the benefits of differentiation in the classroom should be felt by everyone to ensure that you as a teacher see each individual students’ learning path as equal to each other.



High Impact Teaching strategies: Other strategies for differentiation


The above strategies for differentiation in the classroom are for those ideal moments when integrating Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Differentiation is a key high impact teaching strategy used by teachers to ensure that all students’ learning needs are adhered to and supported. It ensures that students are challenged intellectually and are prepared adequately for the life in the workforce.

Differentiated instruction and technology teaching explained: Here are some further strategies for differentiation in the classroom.


Using technology to differentiate by Interest

This means crafting activities that permit students to explore their own interests and develop new ones. Key strategies for differentiating in the classroom include I-Searches, Jigsaw groups, Role Audience Format Topic (R.A.F.T), and WebQuests.


Student choice is a powerful ally for teachers and a great incentive for students.


Using technology to Differentiate by Readiness

This means tuning into your students’ varying degrees of ability in order to create activities that match their skills and levels of understanding. Key strategies for differentiation in the classroom include assessment and observation. Additionally this makes sure that you track student progress along the way.



Using technology to Differentiate by learning profile

Learning profiles include four components such as 1) Intelligence Preference 2) Learning style preferences 3) Gender-based preferences and 4) Culture influenced preferences.

Therefore, your key strategies for differentiation in the classroom would include taking these four styles into consideration.


Using technology to Differentiate by Content

This means that as one of your key strategies for differentiation in the classroom you need to ensure that you help students understand why learning is a treasure. You have to encourage them and help them to engage and to do this understand them and their needs.


Other strategies for differentiation in the classroom are to pre-assess them, modify learning activities, and manage the students. Develop a plan with the students to determine what they’ll do while others work on regular lessons.


Using technology to Differentiate by Process

Strategies for differentiation in the classroom would include adjusting the process to allow you to construct a lesson that supports students individually so that they meet their learning outcomes.