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A2 Understanding DI Matrix

Page history last edited by John McCarthy 13 years, 6 months ago

ModulesUnderstanding | Exploration | Examples | Invitation | Reflection





If student learning is the focus, then we need to integrate DI Components into Learning. If learning begins with engagement, then students have great influence on the success of a lesson. Perhaps then, they should be involved in the decision-making on how learning components are shaped?


Learning Components are the elements that compose effective lessons. The DI Components are how students connect with the lessons. The spectrum of DI ranges from teacher controlled to student-controlled. Opinions vary as to where in the spectrum teaching and learning should occur. For our purposes, let's be mindful of two critical factors:


  1. Teachers need to start from where they are confident about curriculum, instructional tool set, and their student relationships.

    Just as with students, begin where the teacher understands their strengths. Use that knowledge to incorporate DI. 

  2. What is best for students to successfully learn is what we need to do. 

    A learner engages wholly in a lesson or workshop if they have confidence that they can succeed, with support if needed. Context to their world experience bridges to understanding of concepts and ideas that become meaningful because perceived purpose is developed. 


Learning and DI components hold an interdependent relationship for students to experience achievement. When Learning Components are not well organized, many students fall through the cracks, as the few who do succeed do so on their own. When DI Components are not incorporated based on student data or input, disengagement occurs, which may present itself as classroom management issues, lack of work turned in, and students resting their heads on the desk waiting for the period to end. Let's look at these connected components more closely to understand the relationship and how we can integrate them seamlessly into what we already do.


Learning Components



Facts, concepts, and skills are structured by state and power standards. Curriculum is driven by this "content" that students are expected to Know, Understand, and Do. Including students from input to active decision-making enables content to be targeted based on students' needs.



Research on Adult Learner's attention span shows that 20 minutes is the most we can sustain without a change. That's just for the start of a lesson. As a lesson continues, attention span shrinks eventually to 3-5 minutes. If this is true of adults, what does this mean for children, tweens, and teens? (View references)


Making sense of content is so important, yet it is least applied to lessons. Many lessons are a series of activities that present and explore content. When lessons are paced to address target goals, students need "breaks" to check their understanding, or make sure they are on track with the current learning progression before moving on to the next step.


Have you ever been "trained" on something where you experienced overload? When it happens we need space to assimilate data before continuing. In a "coverage" instructional approach, the focus is on disseminating information rather than on comprehension. Often, instruction starts with a presentation of material, and is immediately followed by a product-based activity. What learners need is time to make sense of the target specific activity:


  • Explore what they understood,
  • Ask questions,
  • Seek understanding


Content may need to be chunked or broken into digestible components.



Processing activities take only 30 seconds to 5 minutes to do. Students might:

  • silently reflect or journal about a learning point
  • talk to a partner to check their understanding and get different perspectives
  • reproduce the idea--alone or part of a team--to show what they know and don't know

Try doing at least three processing activities in a 30-40 minute time period (approximately 1 processing activity every 10 minutes)


Product/Learning Artifacts

When students produce something, it's a formative assessment opportunity. We find out how well learners know, understand, and able to do the focused standards-based objectives. As with Process and content, students attend to demonstrating their learning in different ways. For example, in addition to a journaling option to address reading comprehension of a story, students might have the option to interview, record themselves, or draw a 4 panel captioned picture. The focus is on reading comprehension, so students communicate from their strength/comfort area. 


While assessments occur continuously, student artifacts are a great opportunity to understand what each student knows, struggles with, and why. The vast majority of products are not calculated in the students' class grade. Formative assessment allows students to practice, and allow the teacher to identify needs for support and deeper exploration. There will be times during the unit (days or weeks apart) when a benchmark assessment is conducted and recorded in the grade book. Formative assessment lets teachers know what work needs to be done if all students will be better prepared for the benchmark assessment.


An assessment done at the end of the lesson is a way to check if students learned what you intended for them. These products are the ultimate processing activity as students muck about and show what parts of the target they learned or remains fuzzy.


Differentiated Instruction Components

  Figure A2.1


The most common need by teachers is that the students enter a unit with different skills sets. Test a group of students and the results will most likely be across the board for achievement levels. If it's predictable that some students will be behind the expected standard level, and others will be far ahead in their understanding of concepts, instruction must respond to these varied needs.


Formative assessment data provides evidence of what students' need. Those learning needs can be scaffolded both in complexity and motivation. The unit objectives may remain unchanged, but some daily lessons may have varied objectives that are in alignment to the unit outcomes (See Figure A2.1). Daily lessons are the building blocks leading towards the final assessment. 



  • If the text book or article is written at an 8th grade level, and some or many students read at a 6th grade or below level, additional reading material must be found at various levels, lower than 8th, and still address the needed content. Recorded readings of texts is another option. Or sometimes, student teams has one person read aloud while the group highlights key ideas or complete a graphic organizer.
  • Students who struggle with reading time to the quarter hour and those who can tell time up to 5 minute increments need different instruction. This may occur using Centers, Tiering, Homogeneous grouping for a specific activity such as Guided Reading.
  • ELL students may need support that enables them to overcome language barriers to content.
  • Mini-lessons address specific needs of a portion of the students. 



Think about a hobby you're passionate about. Gardening, running, crafts, or a sport, we push ourselves to build expertise in what we love to do. We can and do spend hours on what interests us. How might those hobbies be used to understand concepts in math, science, English, Social Studies or other courses? Incorporating what students like to do does more than engage them with learning. Tapping into students interests helps them connect what they like to do with concepts that in past experience seemed to them abstract and disconnected. When students make connections based on relevance, there is greater opportunity for them to experience deeper knowledge of concepts they struggled with in the past.  All students benefit--those who struggle to those who need greater challenge.



  • Give students 2-4 options to choose from for exploring concepts. One option might be "Student created". With clear criteria established, student created ideas can be refined as needed.
  • Students intrested in cooking might find fractions easier to understand through use of cooking analogies and related tasks.
  • Good writers may put those skills to good use in expressing their understanding and struggle with Math or Science.


Learning Profile

Tom(a)toe or Tom(o)toe, soda or pop, Gardner or Sternberg multiple intelligences. We think and learn in different ways. Student learning preferences needs to be included in planning and instruction. Brain-based learning, multiple intelligence styles, personality inventories are all different ways of looking at learning profile. Identify and understand how students learn and think best. Use that knowledge to help them process comprehension and achieve.



  • Develop a Sternberg Multiple Intelligence (MI) activity where students pick one of three options based on their MI: Creative, Analytical, and Practical.
  • Set up heterogeneous work groups based on where students think using Gardner's Multiple Intelligence. Such groups have a balance of different approaches to learning, and allows for students to contribute in their own way. Examples: Frayer Model, Think Dots, or Task Cards.
  • Use Meyer's Briggs or True Colors to help students understand how best they process information, and think best. Use the information for developing tasks and creating work groups.


Response: (Please post in Comments section below)

Choose one of the questions to answer below:

  1. Explain which section of the Matrix do you understand best: Learning Components or DI Components?
  2. Explain which section of the Matrix do you want to know more about: Learning Components or DI Components?


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