This question has two components:
A) Is PBL an inherent way to differentiate?
Short answer: Mmmm, ....yeah?
B) Is giving choices to students differentiating?
Short answer: Mmmm, ....No?
The PBL structure encourages ways to engage students into interesting topics, to deeply explore concepts and find ways to use that learning to “give back” to community. This form of high engagement and connecting context to the students is fertile ground for quality differentiation for meaningful learning for all students. If you do a PBL Unit with students, you are not differentiate. But if you do a PBL Unit, you can provide a variety of experiences which students tackle with different levels of support based on their needs. That’s differentiating.
For example, I can run a writer’s workshop when students are writing papers or scripting a presentation for POLs, which frees me to stretch minds based on where the student is in their learning. I can use (Reading Apprenticeship) strategies or guided reading (for elementary) to help students access complicated reading to strengthen comprehension.
PBL can stretch all learners, strugglers to high achievers. Differentiated Instruction is the key for unlocking learning opportunities.
Choice is a way to increase student interest in a topic. In that sense, differentiation occurs. Choice without understanding how students process effectively or what interests drives them is like telling someone, “Choose a door to enter. Door 1 leads to something unpleasant, and Door 2 leads to something more unpleasant.”
Differentiation of Choice is most effective when the options are student driven. This can be survey based to student driven ideas. If you like choice, try this:
1. Lay out clear learning criteria that a product or outcome must include.
2. Let students figure out and then pitch to you how they intend to accomplish the work, using any format of their choosing—based on the Learning Criteria
3. If the proposal is on target, allow the students to proceed. If not, send them back to planning with your feedback.
Students will take their thinking to a higher level as a result.