This issue explores how teachers can use primary sources to help differentiate instruction to better meet the needs of all learners.
Carol Ann Tomlinson, a noted expert on the subject, defines differentiated instruction as the practice of adjusting the curriculum, teaching strategies, and classroom environment to meet the needs of all students (Tomlinson 2001). That is not to say that the curriculum is changed, nor that the teacher must develop and teach individual lessons to each student. Rather, the teacher selects materials and constructs lessons to accommodate varied ability levels, interests, and learning styles.
Differentiating instruction with primary sources may be accomplished in numerous ways, as the authors of this issue's feature article explain in detail. A teacher can use primary sources in various formats—photographs, maps, documents, audio files, films—all conveying the same information to students with different learning styles. Alternatively, the same primary source could be paired with different tiered questions to guide students of varying academic readiness levels through the process of analyzing information. Still another strategy would be to invite students to choose from a menu of products they can create (e.g., a story or a collage) based on their interests or strengths as part of a shared primary source-based learning experience.
Regardless of how teachers use primary sources to differentiate their lessons, the end result is more meaningful and challenging instruction for all students. Primary sources provide unique opportunities for teachers to successfully engage every student in higher-order thinking skills.
Tomlinson, C.A. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.