The What, How and Why of Differentiation in Classroom

1 in every 3 students in the US is a dropout, not because they are dumb but because they are bored and schooling expects them to adapt their learning to a curriculum and not vice versa.

While the curriculum in most cases is a rigid entity, the teachers who are entrusted, legally and professionally, with the communication of that curriculum to the students need not be. Everyday, the teacher should make herself increasingly useless in this equation, empowering the students to be independent learners. The teacher who interacts with the diverse body of learners on an ongoing basis cannot adopt “recipe teaching”. There are resources to help a teacher who wants to bring about differentiation in classroom; but that can only guide her – the final design is her responsibility after considering her class dynamics.

So what does a teacher differentiate in order to optimize all students’ learning? This question needs careful analysis and depending on the students’ needs, a teacher could:

 Differentiate the learning environment and materials with which the learners work; for example, in primary grades teachers may sometimes organise students to work at different stations with different resources; or

 Differentiate the content; for example, in a math class some students may be working on 2-digit multiplication, while other with 3-digit multiplication; or

 Differentiate the activities designed to understand the content or assessment tasks; for example, students are given the option to choose from writing an essay or a political cartoon or a parody to demonstrate their understanding of a common historical event or concept.

Students’ needs may vary in readiness, interest or learning profile and differentiation addresses this need. All teachers must differentiate instruction and assessment based on the needs of the learners, to motivate them and to make learning more efficient and accessible. There can be a million reasons for not differentiating instruction and assessment and none of them would be new. In contrast there is one main reason why teachers must differentiate instruction and assessment – respect for students’ and their learning.


  1. I think that there is some truth to this, however if we let the student choose might he of she not always gravitate to what they are strong in. The teacher has to be a guide pushing the students always to the extreme limit.

    1. One needs to teach to a child’s strength and not weakness. Having said that, the choices that the teacher creates are determined by the target skill more than just students’ aptitude and interest. A teacher may guide, and in some cases predecide, the selection of those choices as she feels necessary for child’s growth as a learner. It all depends on how well the teacher thinks it through and plans for.

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