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Student-Driven Differentiation

Student-Driven Differentiation
8 Steps to Harmonize Learning in the Classroom

First Edition
  • Lisa Westman - Author and Educational Consultant, Lisa Westman Consulting

Foreword by Carol Ann Tomlinson

Additional resources:

May 2018 | 216 pages | Corwin

Conduct Orchestras, Not Trains

“What if we understood that we can teach the important ideas and skills of the disciplines in a hundred different ways?  And that students can learn them in a hundred different ways?” 
– Carol Ann Tomlinson

How can teachers create harmony in the classroom when the educational field is lacking tangible action plans for how to differentiate learning for every student?  Full of just-in-time, step-by-step guidance, Student-Driven Differentiation: 8 Steps to Harmonize Learning in the Classroom will show you how to incorporate student voice and choice in the process of planning for differentiation. This unique approach is based on building collaborative student-teacher relationships as a precursor to student growth. The result? Every student learns according to their own needs. 

Organized into three parts for quick reference, this book will lay the foundation for student-driven differentiation and 

  • Identify the criteria for positive teacher-student relationships
  • Examine four areas for differentiated learning – content, process, product, environment
  • Describe the process of planning and implementing student-driven differentiation
  • Motivate and support you in your student-driven differentiation journey
  • Provide unique examples and engaging vignettes throughout, including a fun project inspired by Shark Tank!
Student-Driven Differentiation illustrates relevant, real life examples of authentic learning, using student-driven differentiation as the foundation for these experiences. You’ll also receive an 8-step roadmap outlining actionable strategies that will help you foster a culture of student-driven differentiation and student-driven leadership.

List of Online Tools and Resources
Why Did I Write This Book?

What Is Student-Driven Differentiation?

Student-Driven Leadership: A Crucial Component to Student-Driven Differentiation

How to Read This Book

About the Author
Part I: Foundation
Chapter 1: Relationships Come First
What Are the Criteria for Positive Teacher–Student Relationships?

How Do You Build Respectful Relationships?

Discussion Questions

Chapter 2: Differentiation Is What Happens When Teachers Focus on Student Growth
Differentiation Lessons Learned

Lesson 1: Differentiation Is Not a Goal—It Is a Result

Lesson 2: The Terms Data and Assessment Are Often Misunderstood

Lesson 3: It Is Easy to See Different—It Is Not Easy to See Differentiation

Lesson 4: Differentiation May Never Feel “Easy”

Lesson 5: There Will Always Be Challenges and a Way to Overcome Them

Discussion Questions

Chapter 3: Four Areas to Differentiate
Content: What Is to Be Learned?

Process: How Students Acquire Knowledge

Product: How Students Demonstrate Learning

Learning Environment: Where and With Whom Students Learn

Discussion Questions

Part II: Implementation
Chapter 4: Planning Student- Driven Differentiation
Step 1: Define

Step 2: Hook

Step 3: Assess and Analyze

Step 4: Group Students Strategically

Discussion Questions

Chapter 5: Include Student Voice
Step 5: Set a Goal

Step 6: Differentiate

Step 7: Monitor Progress

Step 8: Assess Again

Discussion Questions

Chapter 6: Student-Driven Differentiation Through Experiential Learning
Student-Driven Differentiation Example 1: Shark Tank

Student-Driven Differentiation Example 2: Mock Trial

Student-Driven Differentiation Example 3: The Amazing Geography Race

Student-Driven Differentiation Example 4: Mock ER

Discussion Questions

Part III: Reimagining Schools
Chapter 7: Create Learning Environments That Promote Student Ownership
Don’t Update the Factory Model; Discard It Altogether

Meet the Needs of All Students

Design Classrooms Conducive to Student-Driven Differentiation

Make Student Ownership Part of the Classroom Culture

Use Technology to Promote Learning and Creativity

Monitor Student Progress Toward Learning Intentions

Enlist Parents’ Help in Furthering Student Learning

Discussion Questions

Chapter 8: The Role of Choice in Meeting Learning Intentions
Offer Choices That Fulfill Learning Needs

Example 1: Use Choice as Part of Curriculum Compacting

Example 2: Align Choice to Learning Intentions

Example 3: Incorporate Choice in Homework Assignments

Example 4: Use Choice to Give Students Ownership of Their Own Learning

Example 5: Use Choice to Allow Students to Work at Their Own Pace

Example 6: Use Choice to Promote Student Autonomy and Student Efficacy

Lack of Choice Can Inhibit Creativity

Discussion Questions

Chapter 9: Your Journey With Student-Driven Differentiation
We Are Entrusted With Instilling the Desire to Learn

We Are Better Together: Collective Efficacy

Mastery Experience: Set Goals to Increase Efficacy

Vicarious Experiences: Observe Teachers in Action

Social Persuasion: Inspire Through Storytelling

Affective States: Support Fellow Educators Through Positive Communication

Now What? Summing It All Up

Discussion Questions



Lisa Westman does an excellent job of explaining the what of differentiation as well as the how. Examples from practitioners show it can be done effectively. The variety of voices - students, administrators, teachers, community - lends credibility by approaching differentiation from multiple perspectives. An excellent book to help teachers truly understand how to differentiate. Westman focuses on real world examples that are driven by research and student needs.

Dr. Jennifer Marten, Gifted & Talented Coordinator, Online School Coordinator
Plymouth Joint School District, Plymouth, WI

A Step-by-Step Guide to Differentiation – all educators need to read this book.  It presents a clear and careful blueprint for an insightful and practical foundation in differentiation. When it comes to differentiation, educators have been looking for a practical book: now we have it.

Dr. Lyne N. Ssebikindu, Principal
Crump Elementary School, Cordova, TN

"This fascinating book presents differentiation in a way that demystifies the strategy so that teachers can unlock thinking and promote rigorous instruction."

Marian White-Hood, Head of School
Potomac Preparatory Public Charter School, Washington DC

"To say I have been waiting for this book by Lisa Westman with great anticipation would be an understatement. She was a frequent and very popular guest blogger for my Finding Common Ground blog. Westman has hit it out of the park with her new book, much like she did with each and every guest blog. She has a deeply engaging writing style that  offers practical steps on how to differentiate using her deep knowledge on the topic. She literally differentiated this book in a variety of ways to help us deepen our understanding. Not only is this a must-read, it is a book that will be relevant for a very long time."

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D., Author/Consultant

"Lisa Westman hits a homerun with this practical, powerful, purposeful, and plentiful book about learning, teaching, and excellence for ALL students. With vignettes and examples from the field, blended with Lisa's courageous and proven success as a teacher leader, all who read this book will be able to implement student focused strategies. This is a book all teachers and educational leaders need to read and share."

Michael Lubelfeld, Ed.D. - Author, Adjunct Professor
Deerfield Public School Superintendent District 109

"This book by Lisa Westman in a must-read for educators everywhere. She delivers a new look at how differentiation must work in our classrooms, with an emphasis on the concept of “student-driven differentiation,” in which the focus is always on student learning, student growth, and investing students in their own learning and their own learning needs. This book is extremely well written and provides practical tips for teachers hoping to transform learning in their classrooms to ensure that all students learn at high levels. The tools and resources in this book--combined with Westman’s expert insights--provide a roadmap for readers to better meet the needs of all students in our schools. Student-Driven Differentiation: 8 Steps to Harmonize Learning in the Classroom is a game changer for educators--and the students they serve!"

Dr. Jeffrey Zoul, Instructional and Leadership Coach, Speaker, Author

"Westman shows the importance of focusing on the learner and moving backward from there.  She does this eloquently through supporting the educator with practical ideas that goes beyond engaging students, but empowers them in their learning.  Empowering learners should be the norm in education, and Westman helps educators move toward that standard."

George Couros, Leadership Consultant
Author of The Innovator's Mindset and Innovative Teaching, Learning

"Lisa Westman presents a seamless alignment of differentiation strategies with approaches designed to empower students. She expertly weaves research, anecdotes, and personal stories with pragmatic and helpful how to's. Her specific examples and valuable charts and tables provide concrete visual tools to support the powerful professional growth opportunities she offers. I recommend this insightful, well-written book for teachers, teacher-leaders, instructional coaches, curriculum supervisors, and administrators."

Debbie Silver, Ed.D.
Author of Fall Down 7 Times, Get up 8, Deliberate Optimism, and Teaching Kids to Thrive

“I think this book would be a great supplemental resource for teacher candidates tackling the edTPA. Teacher candidates struggle in completing the edTPA and the stress, anxiety, and worry each semester is burdensome. I think this book practically explains differentiation and using assessments to guide future instruction (a key part of the edTPA).”

Natalie Young, Ed. D.
Professor at Northern Illinois University
Key features
In this book, educators will find:
  • Real-life examples in every chapter, from the author and from educators all over the country
  • Checklists
  • Helpful infographics to guide implementation
  • Ideas to give students autonomy to create, learn, and grow at their level
  • A companion website maintained by the author with links to helpful resources

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ISBN: 9781506396569

ISBN: 9781506396576