Differentiating Instruction for Content, Process and Product

This week I had the opportunity to learn more about specific strategies for differentiation based on readiness, interests, and learning profile as it relates to content, process and product. There appears to be countless ways to differentiate instruction so that all learners’ needs are addressed. McCarthy (2014) stressed that not only is it important to plan ahead to differentiate instruction with regards to content, process and product, but also the need to address student response to the instruction as it relates to their readiness, interests and learning profiles. In past classes I have learned about student motivation and engagement as necessary components to make learning meaningful each student. The discussion in class this week resonated well with past concepts I have learned in other classes such as student-centered teaching and a reaffirmation that the “one-size-fits-all” approach is not an acceptable means of teaching. And once again, I can see great value in getting to know my students. When I understand what interests them, and how they prefer to learn it will make it easier to identify strategies to differentiate my instruction. Corley (2005) stated that student readiness is also important to consider, because student readiness can vary depending on the topic, their prior learning experiences and various other things going on in their life at the time. In this blog I have decided to explore specific strategies for differentiating instruction for content, process, and product as it relates to teaching dental hygiene.Jeff Charbonneau quote image

Tomlinson (2001) stated that varied instruction for content is a way to ensure that students can access the information provided and also that it is not too far beyond their current knowledge disposition. Before moving on to any new topic it seems prudent to offer students some type of formative assessment to determine their readiness. Formative assessment will provide insight as to where I need to place emphasis of instruction and to determine students who may need more or less support (McCarthy, 2014). After analyzing the results to identify the needs of my students, I could use the information to create a helpful graphic of important concepts and I could group students that are struggling with another student who understands that information for a think-pair-share activity or for the purpose of mentoring.

Determining a strategy of differentiating instruction for process seems a little easier to me. When I think about what type of activity could provide multiple perspectives for understanding new concepts I think role-playing would be particularly beneficial for dental hygiene students. For example if the learning objective was based on dental treatment for medically compromised patients, students could be grouped in pairs with one student acting as the clinician and the other as the patient. To address students’ interest the students could choose (from a pre-determined list) what medical condition they would role-play. In this scenario the clinician would ask relevant questions about the medical condition and how it may affect the patient’s mouth. This strategy for differentiating the process of learning serves to help students’ development of understanding key concepts and to find personal significance of the information for their own purpose (Corley, 2005).

The last major component of differentiating instruction is product. The product is evidence of students’ learning through application and synthesis of key concepts used to create a final project of some type (Corley, 2005). Similar to content and process, product can also be differentiated based on readiness, interest and learning profile. Products can be used as summative assessments and are generally long-term work-in-progress (Tomlinson, 2001). To continue with the example of learning about medically compromised patients and how their conditions relate to oral health students could create a product of their choice (a podcast, a video, a brochure, Power Point or Prezi presentation) to educate a friend or family member about the implications of their medical condition on the oral cavity and their overall health. The last component of that product could be a self-reflection of what questions to ask patients with the medical condition related to gathering a medical history, modifications relative to providing dental treatment and recommendations for the patient to achieve or maintain health. This project creates an opportunity for students to go beyond mere comprehension of concepts to actually extending their knowledge in a “real world” scenario as the final product of their learning. Allowing the students a choice of which medical condition to explore, differentiates the product for interest. Student selection of the product type differentiates learning based on learning style preference.

Providing students with choices to access information, how to make sense of information and how to demonstrate their learning is something to consider for every lesson, in every day of teaching.

To any dental hygiene educators – How do you assess your students for readiness, their interests and learning style preferences? What strategies have been successful for differentiating instruction in your setting?


Corley, M. A. (2005). Differentiated instruction. Focus on basics, 7(c), 13-16.

McCarthy, J. (2014). 15+ readiness resources for driving student success. Retrieved October 4, 2015 from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/differentiated-instruction-readiness-resources-john-mccarthy

Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development


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