Differentiation: not just a buzz word

Posted by Teresa Marchant on Aug 26, 2016 11:00:00 AM

iStock_000006627042XSmall.jpgAs I listened to our opening day Back to School speaker, something the speaker said hit me. He said, “we need to make it a one to one!” He wasn’t referring to the one to one initiatives we all hear about, he wanted teachers to develop meaningful relationships with our students. The more I thought about this concept, the more I saw how it fits into the model of differentiation. Basically, when we get to know our students, on a personal level, our teaching can be more effective.  So how is this possible in a classroom of 30 students?

Flexible Grouping-Educators want their students to be successful. Students can become easily frustrated if the reading material is too difficult or if they lack interest. Flexible group your students (meaning they can change groups based on level, interest, or skill) to maximize classroom teaching.

Independent Research Projects-What do your students want to learn more about? Begin by taking a survey to get them thinking about possible ideas. By using high interest resources, students get excited about learning. They will even read resources that are higher than their reading level because they have a desire to learn. Big Universe has resources that students will want to read. You can filter by topic and level if needed.

Mentors-There is only one of you and a lot of them! Find a mentor for your student. Mentors could be another teacher or staff member at your school, but could also be a community leader or volunteer that is an expert in their field.  We have had engineers, doctors, graphic designers, and even journalists mentor students at our school. These mentors can have a one to one relationship that facilitates learning as well.  

Setting Expectations-When I have developed a positive relationship, I have seen an increase in positive behavior and work ethic in my own students.  Set goals with your students and keep track of their progress.

Staying Organized-When the focus is on one student at a time, it may become overwhelming. By giving your students ownership in their own learning, they can help you stay organized. I use folders for each subject so my students can keep track of their projects. I have them write notes to me in these folders so I can help them individually.

Individual Conferencing- I hold weekly conferences with my students. I talk about their notes they have left for me and how I can help them. This way we can set goals and answer questions they may have. It also keeps them accountable and allows me to check their progress towards their goals. These conferences don't need to be long to be effective. A few minutes with a student saves a lot of work down the road.


Using differentiation maximizes student engagement. This a teaching strategy motivates students to learn. We love to hear from our readers, how has differentiation worked in your classroom? What tips would you give someone just starting to implement this concept in their classroom.

Topics: Classroom Ideas, Personal Experiences, Differentiation, Special Education

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