Systemic Differentiation: Three Ways to Design Units that Foster Equity and Empowerment

For CLASSROOM TEACHERS of all academic subjects, as well as department chairs and academic administrators

Differentiation is the process of providing multiple ways for students to achieve a learning goal.​ Rather than relying solely on the teacher’s ability to notice and respond to what works for individual students, systemic differentiation proceeds from the assumption that students always have diverse interests, needs, values, identities, and experiences—and that teachers should therefore design units that embed multiple and varied ways for them to learn.

​In this highly experiential, participatory, and multimodal workshop, we will explore three different approaching to designing units that embed many ways for students with diverse interests, needs, and backgrounds to achieve the learning goal. We’ll discuss why to use each approach, but our focus will be on how. Practice using tools and strategies that will help you implement each type of systemic differentiation in your classroom. Leave with many ways to make learning meaningful, relevant, and accessible for all students so they experience a sense of success and belonging at school.

Session 1: Systemic Differentiation as Providing Choice. After defining differentiation ​and distinguishing responsive and systemic differentiation, this session ​explores how to differentiate by providing students ​with a choice of learning tasks. Because students don’t always choose what’s most effective, we’ll practice using selection and reflection protocols that empower students to make choices based on their values and long-term goals. (90 minutes)

Session 2: Systemic Differentiation as Creating Variety. In this session, we’ll examine some of the inherent limitations in having each individual student choose their own learning tasks. Then, we will spend most of our time learning an alternative way to differentiate: by creating variety in how students encounter and respond to the content, so that all students can find the overall unit interesting, challenging, and meaningful. (90 minutes)

Session 3: Systemic Differentiation as Fostering Meaning-Making. Even when students cannot choose what they do in school, they can always choose what those tasks meanThis session is about how to differentiate by helping students connect their learning to sources of meaning in their lives. After discussing what sources of meaning are, we will practice several protocols that empower students to connect lessons, discussions, assignments, and interactions to sources of meaning in their own lives. (90 minutes)