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Curriculum Insights • Differentiation in the Math Classroom

Scott Erickson, Head of School

In the May parent survey, you said that you’d like us to focus on:

  • Higher academic goals for your children with greater attention to the range of learning profiles
  • More focus on academic rigor and challenging students in math

We want to be responsive to this input and proactive by using the summer’s math curriculum review to directly address this vital feedback.

With that in mind, we’re focusing on a teaching strategy called differentiation. It is essential for creating successful, challenging, and rigorous math classrooms. We have integrated new faculty training, collaborative lesson planning, and regular feedback during team meetings to improve differentiated instruction. Essentially, differentiation is seen through three primary lenses:

  • Content: Multiple approaches to teach what students learn
  • Process: How students make sense of that content
  • Product: How students show they have mastered that content

With that as a backdrop, this week’s math article is designed to increase your knowledge and understanding of math differentiation. We’re using an FAQ format so you can easily see the headlines.

What are the qualities of good differentiation?

  • Taking multiple approaches to content, process, and product
  • A blend of whole class, small group, and individualized instruction
  • Proactive, organic, and dynamic approach to teaching
  • Uses qualitative as well as quantitative data
  • Rooted in ongoing assessment

Why is differentiation significant?

  • Raises expectations and achievement
  • Teaches high-level work to all students
  • Provides multiple entry points for problem-solving
  • Individualized challenges based on where students are in their learning continuum
  • Avoids homogeneous grouping and inflexible tracking

How does math differentiation begin?

  • Teachers understanding the unique strengths, mindsets, and learning profiles of their students
  • Collecting data on each student’s math learning
  • Closely monitoring student progress
  • Designing instruction with a balance of whole class, small group, and individual learning tasks

What are the top strategies to execute differentiation in math?

  • Flexible Grouping: Intentionally designed small groups (4-10) that set high expectations and new challenges for each student
  • Digging deeper into content through open-ended problem solving and lesson extensions
  • Scaffolded workplaces, modified for various levels of challenge
  • Regular assessment to understand the readiness of individual students to learn new content
  • Classroom teachers, learning specialists, and Math Enrichment Coordinator rotating between Flexible Groups frequently and conducting ongoing formative assessment
  • Parallel Teaching: Two or more teachers simultaneously leading the same lesson with differing levels of scaffolding and support

How do teachers make decisions about designing Flexible Groups?

  • Monitoring student assessment data
  • Qualitative observations such as classwork, contributions to class discussions and investigations, and homework assignments
  • Observing how students make sense of new content in the classroom
  • Team discussions on how to organize students into Flexible Groups based on their readiness to move forward
  • Assessment of where each student is at during a given week: Some ready for more challenge, others needing additional support, reinforcement, and scaffolding

For effective differentiation, the process is just as crucial as content to attain the product we want, which is mastery of math learning outcomes, ongoing challenge, and more significant achievement. To learn more about math at PBS, please watch for upcoming parent education opportunities:


Thank you for supporting our math program objectives!

Scott Erickson, Jon Fulk, and Michelle Donahoe
Head of School, Head of Academic Programs, and Math Enrichment Coordinator

  • insights
  • Math


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