Maybe I’m the Slow Kid

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On the CAST web site they introduce Differentiated Instruction by stating:

Not all students are alike. Based on this knowledge, differentiated instruction applies an approach to teaching and learning so that students have multiple options for taking in information and making sense of ideas.

Teachers some times think they are being asked to “water” down the curriculum and that differentiated instruction is for the special education or slower students in the class. It is really for everyone. The recent cold weather brought me to a great example of differentiated instruction on a personal level. When I want to know the weather forecast for my city I always use the National Weather Service (NOAA) web site (

During may last visit to the site, I thought this is a great way to look at differentiated instruction. People like different representations of the weather. You may like one or more of the following four or more ways the weather is represented on the site.

Method One:

Images and brief text:


This is a pretty typical way the weather is represented in the newspaper and on popular weather websites. It gives you a nice glance at the five day forecast.

Method Two:

More days, but all text.


Notice that you get a little more detail. It takes a little longer to read the forecast than to look at the images.

Method Three:

The big picture using radar and Satellite Images.


A bigger picture and more complicated. You have regional radar and wide satellite images and if you know weather patterns or watch the radar loop, you can see the movement of storms.

Method Four:

This is the forecast I use. It makes the most sense to me. You can find it under “Additional Forecast and Information” the third listing on the left, Hourly Weather Graph.


You will get these two graphs and five more. The two graphs shown here show an hour by hour view of the temperature, wind chill, dew point, wind speed, wind direction, and wind gust. The other five graphs show more data. I like it because I can view the change in the forecast over time.

How does this relate to differentiated instruction? If you read through this long-winded (pun intended) post, you most likely thought of the method you like best. You picked the one that gave you the information you needed to know and a way you can grasp what the weather forecast is for the next few days.

I happen to like Method Four. Then again, maybe I am just the slow kid in the class. Wouldn’t it be great if we took the power of technology to help represent information in different ways for different students? Instruction using audio, video, text, animations, pictures, or a combination of all of them. We don’t need to create all the content. Some is created and if we learn to share we can all create part of it.


PS Special thanks to Brian Montgomery from the National Weather Service for teaching me more about weather than any science teacher I ever had in school.


  1. Hi Jim – great post. I attend a lot of “Individualized Educational Plan” meetings for “Special Education” students. I really enjoy the renewal meetings when the cognitive tests are reviewed, but I always leave feeling a little frustrated that we only do this testing for students who are “struggling”. Why shouldn’t every child have an IEP? I know, of course, that the answer comes down to resources – monetary and human – but I wonder if the cost of these tests could be diminished if technology could be used in them more effectively, and/or if the cost would become more affordable if a different economy of scale was achieved. The information is so valuable to so many – the student, the teacher, the curriculum designer, etc. In any case, it’s simply a matter of good practice to use multiple models to promote conceptual development, and your specific example of NOAA products is a wonderful promotion of a great entity – not only is their service valuable to us as individuals affected by the weather, they produce some very high quality free educational materials (check out JetStream –

  2. Love the examples. I plan to use them for professional development with staff. What a great way to “see” differentiated instruction. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Tell them, show them a picture, give them an experience…. every lesson plan should contain each of these. Whenever I am putting together a 56 minute plan, I try to make sure there is instruction, activity, and discussion. Without each of these elements, the day feels incomplete.

    And, if you don’t reach them in class, provide opportunities online to extend the lesson. A website with links to the handouts, video clips, and content from the class. An email adress to send their questions to.

    Perhaps, for me, a blog is yet another extension?!

  4. Hi Jim – I teach an online course entitled, “Maximizing Learning Styles: Differentiating Instruction with Technology.” It is so important to remember that our learners need us to provide differentiation of content. Your example is excellent. We are all learners and we all prefer differente ways to take in the content so that it makes sense to us. I recently happened upon an interesting book – it was written in 1901 – can you believe it! The name of it is “The Curse of Education” by Harold E. Gosrt – free download on my iPhone (eReader). I am finding it fascinating because he is discussing the very same issues we are discussing today. He talks about lecture halls and how ineffective they are and how students need to learn by doing (process). In the November issue of Harvard Magazine I just read an article about how lectures are now turning to multimedia. Gorst discusses community and how each can contribute with his own expertise rather than fitting square pegs into round holes. It is interesting how what goes around comes around. He talks about cramming a head full of “useless knowledge” and how by being involved in creating something one learns more fully. When we provide our students various media and methods of involvement in their learning we give them opportunities to be engaged. We also need to provide them with various ways in which to express that which they have learned (product)as well.



  1. kBlog :: UDLearning - [...] author went on to describe a concrete example of how to apply such multiple options in the classroom.  …

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