TL Advisor Blog

Help for educators who want to differentiate student learning this school year

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August 30, 2012 By: Lisa Nielsen

Aug 29

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8/29/2012 9:08 PM  RssIcon



Innovative educators know we can help students learn most effectively when we differentiate learning in ways that enable them to draw upon their personal strengths and talents. However, some teachers groan when anyone talks about using this method of teaching because it can seem overwhelming to assess and evaluate the skills of each student and then design a customized program for optimum learning conditions.  

While there are programs like School of One that do this work by hand, it can be costly and overwhelming. It is important to provide tools and resources that make it possible to help each student achieve and demonstrate deeper learning. Fortunately there are more and more adaptive technology programs like Renzulli Learning Systems or Dreambox that can be used to support educators in doing this work. You can click here to see how teachers are using such tools to differentiate math instruction.  

Here are ways you can get started with differentiating learning in your classroom.


  • Evaluate students: It starts with evaluating students by assessing their talents, interests, abilities, learning style and preferred environment. The nice thing provided by some of the technology programs is that it automates the evaluation and can enable you to group students by various factors as well as find activities that best align to their profile. Automating tasks such as these makes the work of differentiating learning more manageable.
  • Set goals: Teachers are given educational goals for students to meet. This works out best when students are invited to set their own goals with the expert support of their teacher. This includes identifying and helping them build upon what they already know. Support them in recognizing and appreciating their existing knowledge as you work with students to identify a plan for achieving their personal goals.
  • Provide skills for success: Help students develop skills for success by discussing various opportunities and choices for achieving learning goals. This helps students feel more confident in their skills, and it increases the likelihood that they will be motivated to continue learning more.
When we differentiate learning to customize it to the needs of each child, students thrive, parents appreciate the special attention that is given to their children, and schools realize the benefits of hiring educators who are able to incorporate this instructional method into teaching and learning.

Lisa Nielsen writes for and speaks to audiences across the globe about learning innovatively and is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on “Passion (not data) Driven Learning,” "Thinking Outside the Ban" to harness the power of technology for learning, and using the power of social media to provide a voice to educators and students. Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities to support learning in real and innovative ways that will prepare students for success. In addition to her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator, Ms. Nielsen’s writing is featured in places such as Huffington Post, Tech & Learning, ISTE Connects, ASCD Wholechild, MindShift, Leading & Learning, The Unplugged Mom, and is the author the book Teaching Generation Text.

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.

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