Planning for Differentiation

An article in the Washington Post, Schools Look At Providing More Time For Teachers caught my eye recently which looks at teacher planning time. As you might imagine, teachers feel they lack planning time.... and they may have a point. The amount of planning time has stayed constant while requirements for inclusion and accountability have increased.

My question is do we design curriculum to address these challenges from the onset or do we expect teachers to plan lessons, adjust their instruction for a variety of diverse learners, grade assignments, connect with parents and other colleagues, make copies in a 40 minute planning period? Curriculum Planning Pyramid

Why not differentiate the curriculum from the beginning?

The graphic to the left depicts the Curriculum Planning Pyramid (Schumm, Vaughn, & Leavell, 1994) which represents how curriculum might be organized to meet the needs of all learners.

  • The base represents the most important concepts you want ALL STUDENTS to learn.
  • The middle layer represents additional facts, extensions of base concepts, related concepts that MOST, but not all students will learn.
  • The top represents complex and/or detailed information that a FEW students learn.

It's the same content, but different attainments. This coupled with "Big Ideas" differentiates the curriculum from the onset. Priorities are already established. Teachers will have a pre-established guide to help communicate expectations to parents, write IEPs, and work with other colleagues.

In a previous life, I was a teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. I had many regular education teachers I had to work with to serve my students and while I tried to help, I often wondered what the point of helping students complete a single worksheet or assignment. Teachers rarely had time to collaborate. I am intrigued by the idea of how much more effective our work might have been if I had such a curriculum to guide my efforts. What are your thoughts?

Schumm, J.S., Vaughn, S., & Leavell, A.G. (1994). Planning pyramid: A framework for planning for diverse student needs during content area instruction. The Reading Teacher, 47, pp.608-615.

Vaughn, S., Bos, C.S., & Schumm, J.S. (2000). Teaching exceptional, diverse, and at-risk students in the general education classroom. (2nd ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.


During my time as a special ed resource and inclusion teacher, time for planning and collaboration was often limited and usually after school. When I was able to get together with my grade level teachers, we were able to do some great work. All teachers are struggling with time and see differentiation as another add on when it truly should be more. I think the idea of a planned curriculum guide that provides the different attainment levels for teachers helps to eliminate some of the pre-planning for them and will serve as a framework for lessons. It may also help them to develop their own differentiated lessons within the content. The ultimate would combine the differentiated curriculum guide with ample planning and collaboration time! (Got a magic wand?)

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