Project Differentiation

6 Strategies for Differentiated Instruction in Project-Based Learning

Project-based learning (PBL) is a natural fit for differentiated instruction because of its hands-on nature. It is designed to be student-centered and student-driven, and it provides teachers with the flexibility to meet the needs of their students in some different ways. In addition to allowing for effective differentiation in assessment, PBL can also allow for effective differentiation in daily management and instruction.

Although PBL experts will tell you this, I frequently hear teachers ask for real-world examples and specifics to help them understand what it looks like in the classroom. We must all experiment with specific ideas and strategies to train our brains to function in a different environment. Here are some specific differentiation strategies to employ during a project-based learning environment.


We are all aware that heterogeneous grouping is effective, but homogeneous grouping can also be an effective way to differentiate a project at certain times. When working on a novel- or literature-based PBL project, it may be necessary to differentiate by grouping students according to their reading level. As a result, I can take groups of students who require intensive work and make certain that they receive the instruction they require.

Teaming should be done with purpose, and we should understand why we structure teams the way we do. Are you making distinctions based on academic ability? Are you differentiating yourself based on your ability to collaborate? Are you making a distinction for social and emotional purposes? Are you differentiating yourself based on your passions? If you’re a designer or co-designer of a project-based learning project, you may find that working in groups is an effective way to differentiate instruction.


PBL is not complete without the inclusion of reflection. Throughout the project, students should be reflecting on their work and setting learning objectives for themselves and others to follow. This is an excellent opportunity for them to set personalized learning objectives, and for you to tailor your instruction to meet the objectives they have set.

An experienced math and science teacher I observed asked students to reflect on what they’d learned so far in math and science and then create goal statements for what they still wished to learn at specific points in the project. The teacher then devised activities to assist students in learning not only what they desired, but also what they were required to learn.


This is most likely one of my favorite songs. Mini-lessons and centers, in addition to being an excellent time management strategy for avoiding time sucks in class, are also an excellent way to differentiate instruction. Perhaps you provide mini-lessons or center work to assist your students in their learning, or perhaps you provide students with a variety of learning resources, such as videos, games, and readings.

I know a teacher who has a classroom that runs like a well-oiled PBL machine. Students move seamlessly from product work to learning stations, resources, and mini-lessons based on what they already know, all while maintaining a positive attitude. Students are in such tune with their learning that they can truly take ownership of it, and the teacher provides instruction without making any assumptions about what the students are learning. Not all students may benefit from the mini-lesson; therefore, you can offer or demand is for those students who will benefit the most.


Another important component of project-based learning is students’ voice and choice, both in terms of the products students produce and in terms of how they spend their time. With the products, you can allow students to demonstrate their knowledge in a variety of ways. You can differentiate how students are summarily evaluated by including written components, artistic or theatrical components, and so on. Their passions are brought into play in this situation.

Again, it all depends on the standards that you’re evaluating, but don’t let those standards limit your thinking or creativity. It is possible that your writing assessment includes a written component, but ask yourself: “How can I provide opportunities for voice and choice here?” Encourage students to consider the possibility of differentiated summative products.


Formative assessments may look the same for all students. They can also have a variety of appearances. We are aware that students can demonstrate what they have learned in a variety of ways, as previously mentioned in the context of products produced as a summative assessment. You can also formatively assess in a variety of ways as you go along the process, checking for understanding along the way.

Perhaps you are aiming for collaboration on the project as a goal. There are several ways in which you can differentiate a formative assessment of this. This may be an oral conference. Perhaps a series of written responses will be provided. Possibly a graphic organizer or a collage will suffice. More importantly, these formative assessments allow you to differentiate between the types of instruction that will be required as you progress through the project’s various stages.


In a PBL project, teamwork and collaboration are expected to occur regularly. We want to make use of collaboration just as much as we do of content. Individual instruction and practice, on the other hand, maybe required in certain situations. Some students learn better on their own than others, and it is necessary to differentiate the learning environment for each individual. We all require time to process and think on our own, just as we require time to learn from our peers. Make sure to strike a balance between the two so that you are encouraging a collaborative environment while also providing time for one-on-one interactions with students.

As you become more adept at implementing the PBL process in your classroom, you will intuitively discover ways to differentiate instruction for your pupils. You will design the project in such a way that content and skills can be scaffolded in a variety of ways. You will design formative and summative assessments that take into account students’ interests and goals, and you will manage the process in such a way that it allows you to be effective.