DIFFERENTIATION: Its Not As Hard As You Think


[semester equivalent = 4.00 credits]



Brenda McKinney



Today’s students differ greatly from each other and their learning needs vary more dramatically than ever! These differences are wide ranging and are being identified earlier. Such classroom disparities require all educators to think differently about teaching and learning; educators have been differentiating for ages. This class is intended to move you from where you are now (beginner. proficient. advanced) in the procedures of differentiation, to the next level essential for success.

You will learn how to implement differentiation properly to emphasize shared responsibility between teacher and student, because the brain that does the work is the brain that learns! Differentiation and the Brain (the text) is a great introduction into how research supports the use of differentiated learning opportunities for all classrooms.  The text is not bogged down with statistical data but rather is explained in user-friendly terms.  This will be a go-to resource for years to come!  Once you start, you will be hooked forever!  This course is appropriate for educators at all levels K-12.  Learn to teach differently and smarter, not harder ! Join me on an adventure to learn how to manage and establish a differentiated classroom.

LEARNING OUTCOMES: Upon completion of this course, participants will have:

  • Understand the non-negotiables of effective differentiation instruction.
  • Develop a more productive view of assessment and grading.
  • Learn how to support student readiness, gender differences, cultural differences, student interests and passions.
  • Identify and explore the 7 Principles of Leading Students.
  •  Create guidelines and structure for effective group work and management

Completion of all specified assignments is required for issuance of hours or credit. The Heritage Institute does not award partial credit.

The use of artificial intelligence is not permitted. Assignment responses found to be generated by AI will not be accepted.

Completing the basic assignments (Section A. Information Acquisition) for this course automatically earns participants their choice of CEUs (Continuing Education Units), Washington State Clock Hours, Oregon PDUs, or Pennsylvania ACT 48 Hours. The Heritage Institute offers CEUs and is an approved provider of Washington State Clock Hours, Oregon PDUs, and Pennsylvania ACT 48 Hours.



Continuing Education Quarter credits are awarded by Antioch University Seattle (AUS). AUS requires 75% or better for credit at the 400 level and 85% or better to issue credit at the 500 level. These criteria refer both to the amount and quality of work submitted.

  1. Completion of Information Acquisition assignments 30%
  2. Completion of Learning Application assignments 40%
  3. Completion of Integration Paper assignment 30%


CREDIT/NO CREDIT (No Letter Grades or Numeric Equivalents on Transcripts)
Antioch University Seattle (AUS) Continuing Education Quarter credit is offered on a Credit/No Credit basis; neither letter grades nor numeric equivalents are on a transcript. 400 level credit is equal to a "C" or better, 500 level credit is equal to a "B" or better. This information is on the back of the transcript.

AUS Continuing Education quarter credits may or may not be accepted into degree programs. Prior to registering, determine with your district personnel, department head, or state education office the acceptability of these credits for your purpose.



Differentiation and the Brain: How Neuroscience Supports the Learner-Friendly Classroom

None. All reading is online.


Text, Differentiation and the Brain: How Neuroscience Supports the Learner-Friendly Classroom, costs approximately $20 from



Assignments done in a course forum will show responses from all educators who have or are taking the course independently. Feel free to read and respond to others' comments. 
Group participants can only view and respond to their group members in the Forum. 

Assignment #1: Introduction.

For those participating in Group Collaboration, you must read and follow the instructions outlined in the Group Collaboration Guidelines. Click on the link for Guidelines.

  • Assignment #1, each participant must complete this assignment independently.
  • There should be a minimum of (4) four group meetings during which the course content is discussed. 
  • Teleconferences or live meetings are acceptable. A good videoconference option is Zoom (
  • Each participant must attend at least 75% of the group meetings (a minimum of 3 of 4 meetings).

You must complete your introduction before moving on to other assignments.

When we teach the same things to all students at the same time 1/3 already know it, 1/3 get it and 1/3 don’t so 2/3 of them are wasting their time. The differentiation journey begins here. Welcome.

  • Choose ONE of the introductory videos to inspire you as you begin your journey.
  • Then introduce yourself 
    • Current professional situation, some low and high points in your teaching career
    • Why you chose this course as it relates to your own need for differentiation research and strategies
    • Experience with differentiation in the classroom
    • Immediate changes you would like to see in your own classroom as a result of this course

Assignment #2: Key Principles.

  • In your text read pages 7-16 to be able to define the key principles that guide effective differentiation
  • View this video from one of your authors, Carol Tomlinson, on getting started with differentiated instruction


  • Watch the video from Carol Tomlinson, a differentiation expert showing you a sample lesson
  • Watch the video to discover the power of student driven learning while you meet Shelley Wright.
  • Write a response including the reading, videos, previous experience while considering the following:
    • Compare and contrast your classroom practices that already support the individual needs of your students
    • Expand the idea of differentiation and flexibility for all learners
    • Differentiation and the brain and how it fundamentally changes the classroom
    • Key areas of change that will lead to academic success

Assignment #3: Environment & Differentiation.

  • In your text read pages 17-35 focusing on the connection between a safe and secure classroom and sucess for all students including a growth mindset and increased confidence
  • Watch the video of a mindset interview with Carol Dweck to be able to define and learn more about the fixed and growth mindsets.
  • Watch the video on mindset meeting up with the ZPD (which will be covered later in your reading)


  • Respond to the reading, videos and handout in your text while considering the following:
    • implication of mindsets for both you and your students? 
    • logistics to provide a safe and secure environment for ALL students
    •  look at the new research on the social brain and how it will impact your classroo.
    • complete the handout on Questions for Teachers about Mindsets and be sure to include in your response
    • identify and discuss possible changes for your classroom

Assignment #4: Quality Curriculum, DI & the Brain.

  • In your text read pages 45-62
  • Create a chart (2 columns) showing the qualities of an engaging, effective, exciting, enriching (E4) curriculum vs. the demands of school curriculum/testing, scripted curriculum
  • Do an honest appraisal and explain whether the two columns synchronize with each other. 
  • Watch the video on the importance of inclusion through a fascinating look at differnetiation through movies
  • Use your chart, video, reading to respond to the following:
    • Pressure of "I've Got Stuff to Cover"
    • Curriclum demands versus what the brain needs for learning and long term memory
    • Basics of incorporating more student centered activites, hands on learning and collaboration
    • Review the reproducible on Quality of Curriclum and discuss possible changes for your classroom
    • New ideas about DI, quality curriclum, pressures and demands

Assignment #5: Classroom assessment/collaboration & DI.

  • In your text read pages 63-83 on creating flexibility with classroom assessment and collaboration. 
  • View the video on Standards Based Grading.
  • View the video How Much Should Homework Count?
  • Watch the video on Effecting Change
  • Respond to this sometimes controversial but critical area for all educators  while considering the following:
  • grading practices - harmful or helpful 
  • role of neuroscience in struccture of our teaching and units (the traditional mode of teaching a unit and then testing at the end) 
  • how the brain wants to learn and what would be a more brain attuned method of error correction and processing
  • rote learning and the role of executive function and memory
  • assessment modalities that include student choice
  • check out the reproducible on pgs. 82-83 and discuss possible changes to your classroom
  • favorite ideas about on classroom assessment/collaboration and grading practices 

Assignment #6: Explore Student Readiness.

  • Read pages 85-109 to analyze the need for all learners to be in the zone of proximal development and how neuroscince can help explain the dynamics of the attentional system. 
  • Watch the video that matches your grade level.  First video K-2. Second video secondary.
  • Do the reproducibles on pages 106-109 of your text
  • Respond to your reading, video, reproducible while considering the following:
    • learning contracts and their effectiveness
    • implications for the classroom based on readiness, large class sizes and use of DI
    • differentiating content, process, product with realistic challenges and guidelines
    • value of tiering


Assignment #7: Student Interest.

  • Read pages 111-135 to understand why student “interests” matters in terms of chemical changes that happen in the brain. 
  • Watch the video featuring Dr. Judy Willis on the neuroscience of boredom
  •  Look at the reproducibles on pgs. 131-135. What ideas provide additional activities and possible changes for your classroom?
  • Write your response on the reading, video, reproducibles while considering the following:
    • boredom and lack of engagement
    • how attending to student interest can radically change the tone of a classroom
    • ideas can you add to your tool box based on the reading to differentiate content, process, and product based on student interests 
    • implementing Sidebar Studies and Expert Groups or Tribes with focus on student interest
    • ideas provide additional activities and possible changes for your classroom 

Assignment #8: Classroom Management.

  • Read pages 165-186 to understand the elements of classroom flexibility that allow for all types of learners to flourish and succeed. 
  • Watch the video on differentiation and management
  • Watch the video on differentation and management of rotation stations
    • View this video from Martha Kaufeldt on the difficulties of managing DI 
    • Look at the reproducibles on pgs. 185-186.  What ideas do you have for smoothly running classroom using the principles of DI?
    • Create a graphic organizers to show the things you are already going, the goals you have for yourself, and the questions that still remain about implementation. (10 free apps for creating the Venn diagram). Be sure to include your response about your learning, new challenges, and excitement change.



In this section, you will apply your learning to your professional situation. This course assumes that most participants are classroom teachers who have access to students. If you do not have a classroom available to you, please contact the instructor for course modifications. Assignments done in a course forum will show responses from all educators who have or are taking the course independently. ​Feel free to read and respond to others' comments. Group participants can only view and respond to their group members in the Forum. 


Assignment #9: Interest Based Activities.

  • Create materials to use for ONE (1) of the following interest based activities
    1. Search, Design-A-Day
    2. Group Investigation
    3. WebQuests
    4. Jigsaw
    5. Negotiated Criteria (information available in educational research on all of them
  • Create materials, then try them out in the classroom. Evaluate effectiveness and changes you would like to make for the next time

  • Respond your evaluation, reflection, and samples/photos 

Assignment #10: Lesson Development.

Option A

Create at least 3 anchor activities to use in your DI classroom. These activities will definitely help you feel less frazzled and more in control of management. Choose whatever feels best to you and your students. Adapt a lesson to try the anchor activities in the classroom by completing the following:

Option B)
Use this option if you do not have a classroom available.

  • Create at least 3 anchor activities to use in your DI classroom. These activities will definitely help you feel less frazzled and more in control of management. Choose whatever feels best to you and your students. Adapt a lesson to try the anchor activities in the classroom. (Do not implement it.)
  • Share what you’ve learned with other teachers taking our courses by contributing your Lesson to The Heritage Institute Lesson Library here. (
  • You may download a copy of THI's lesson plan template here. (
  • Write a 500+ word article concerning any noteworthy success you’ve had as a teacher with one or more students.
  • Please refer to the guidelines on our blog What Works: Teaching at its Best prior to writing your article. (
  • When you submit your article to your instructor, please also email a copy to Renee Leon THI blog curator and media specialist. (
  • Indicate whether or not you are OK with having your article considered for publishing on our website.
  • Submit your modified lesson and your article along with your article via email to your instructor.  

Assignment #11: Brainstorm.

  • Take into consideration each of the following areas:
    • Pre-assessment
    • on-going assessment
    • summative assessment
    • anticipatory set
    • instruction
    • guided/independent practice.
  • Brainstorm and plan 3-5 activities that would work for your curriculum area/grade level. 
  • Create a chart showing the activities for each area and then include a description of that activity.  This will be invaluable in getting you started. 
  • For more advanced DI teachers plan to incorporate new activities for each of the areas listed above.

Assignment #12: (500 Level ONLY)

In addition to the 400 level assignments, complete ONE (1) of the following assignment options:
Option A)   Create a 15-minute PowerPoint presentation for your staff based on this course and focused on perspectives or strategies you feel would be beneficial for your school. 
  • must include at least 20 slides
  • pictures and graphics are to be used
  • use minimal words for effectiveness
  • bibligraphy and introductory slide
Option B)  Mentor another individual in the concepts of this class.  Have them share two or three key concepts that they would like to implement within their classroom and would be willing to meet with you and share feedback about.  Share specifics of the plan and how it can be evaluated for success.
Option C)  Another assignment of your own design with the instructor’s prior approval.


Assignment #13: (Required for 400 and 500 level)

(Please do not write this paper until you've completed all of your other assignments)

Write a 400-500 word Integration Paper answering these 5 questions:

  1. What did you learn vs. what you expected to learn from this course?
  2. What aspects of the course were most helpful and why?
  3. What further knowledge and skills in this general area do you feel you need?
  4. How, when and where will you use what you have learned?
  5. How and with what other school or community members might you share what you learned?


Instructors will comment on each assignment. If you do not hear from the instructor within a few days of posting your assignment, please get in touch with them immediately.


Brenda McKinney, CEO of Vancouver, WA based BrainVolution, is a developer and dynamic facilitator of workshops that teach practical thinking and learning tools for raising student achievement with the brain in mind. She has trained educators throughout the Pacific Northwest and is a popular presenter because of her ability to motivate, make things fun, and teach practical techniques for the classroom that can be used immediately. Brenda continues to read hundreds of books and articles on the subject of neuroscience and searches for the answer to success for every student. Her work with at-risk students and those with reading problems have made her a popular speaker at the state, regional and national level.

Brenda is able to synthesize the new research and continues to address the role of how to use the latest findings to create high achievement classroom. She brings 30+ years of experience at the elementary, middle school, high school and university level as a mentor teacher, consultant, motivational speaker, university instructor, and reading specialist. Brenda has her Master’s in Education from Washington State University and is nationally certified in Brain Based Learning through the renowned  Jensen Corporation, led by Eric Jensen, a noted international spokesperson for neuroscience and education.


Brenda will inspire and motivate you with her energy, enthusiasm and knowledge. Her wisdom, techniques, and brain based approach to education will inspire you and challenge you to meet the demands of this ever changing world.



DIFFERENTIATION: Its Not As Hard As You Think

Sousa, David & Carol Ann Tomlinson. Differentiation and the Brain: How Neuroscience Supports the Learner-Friendly Classroom. Solution Tree Press. 2011.
ISBN: 978-1-935249-59-7 and can be purchased at (About $20.00) 186 pages + free downloads of templates and worksheets. Resource for all levels.
Excellent text for both new and expert classroom teachers. Combines the perspectives of differentiation and neuroscience to build a convincing argument for change. If you are wondering why we need one more book on differentiation, this is the answer. It makes the fields of differentiation and neuroscience accessible and offers practical tips that will bring you back to the book again and again. This text lined up closely with my own work in the classroom and I believe this text will provoke the creativity you need and restore the pedagogical fires that you felt when you started teaching. Provides an IMPORTANT new perspective.
Cash, Richard M.  Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century. Free Spirit Publishing. 2011. ISBN:  978-1-57542-357-9. Advanced Teacher Resource. Go beyond the basics and gain the tools to build a more rigorous differentiated curriculum. Infuse your teaching with thinking skills essential to success after your students get out of school. This text is more advanced but it was definitely a favorite. A resource to help you thrive!! Contains a CD.
Doubet, Kristina & Jessica Hockett. Differentiation in Middle and High School: Strategies to Engage All Learners. ASCD. 2015. ISBN: 978-1-4166-2018-1.
In this one-stop resource for middle and high school teachers, Kristina J. Doubet and Jessica A. Hockett explore how to use differentiated instruction to help students be more successful learners--regardless of background, native language, learning style, motivation, or school savvy. Each chapter provides a plethora of practical tools, templates, and strategies for a variety of subject areas developed by and for real teachers. Differentiation in Middle and High School will show you classroom-tested ways to better engage students and help them succeed every day.
Jensen, Eric & LeAnn Nickelsen.  Deeper Learning: 7 Powerful Strategies for In-Depth and Longer Lasting Learning. 2008. Corwin Press. 2008.
ISBN:  978-1-4129-5203-3. Resource for grades 4-12. Very comprehensive. This text has it all and is directed to users grades 4-12. Differentiation is explained and there are templates galore to help you add new ideas to your daily strategies. There are 50 strategies in this great book based on all learning levels. The only downside is the length. LeAnn should have an updated edition out soon.  For the “So What?” or the “Wow,” add this to your collection for practical strategies.
Kaufeldt, Martha. Teachers Change Your Bait! Brain Compatible Differentiated Instruction. Crown House Publishing. 2006. ISBN: 1904424619. Elementary Resource.
Packed with practical ideas and examples for differentiation especially for elementary classrooms. Not only does it provide a wealth of strategies but explains the neuroscience behind each principle. If you want to get organized this is a great place to start. Great for teachers of second language learners, reluctant learners, and high potential students. I love Martha’s work because it direct and to the point and easy to follow.
Tomlinson, Carol Ann. How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed Ability Classrooms. ASCD. 2001.  ISBN: 0-87120-512-2. Resource for all levels.
Field tested ideas that every teacher can use. Tomlinson is the expert. I especially like this one because it includes curriculum compacting, sidebar investigations, graphic organizers, contracts, portfolios. It is a great second book for the work in this class. Very practical.
Tomlinson, Carol Ann & Michael Murphy. Leading for Differentiation: Growing Teachers who Grow Kids. ASCD. 2015. ISBN: 978-1-4166-2080-8.
Leading the change to a differentiated school means creating an environment in which each individual feels valued, challenged, supported, and part of a team working together for success. In this book, school leaders will learn how to set the course for positive change and create the structural supports that will help teachers grow as differentiators so that their students will thrive as learners.
Vatterott, Cathy. Rethinking Grading: Meaningful Assessment for Standards-Based Learning. ASCD. 2015. ISBN: 978-1-4166-2049-5.
Rethinking Grading will show all educators how standards-based grading can authentically reflect student progress and learning--and significantly improve both teaching and learning.