How do teachers prepare their students and their classrooms for differentiated instruction?

Page 9: Communicate with Students and Parents

Teacher at the boardBecause differentiated instruction is different from traditional instruction, teachers should discuss with students and parents what they can expect in a differentiated classroom. Among other things, the teacher should explain:

  • That all students will be challenged
  • That students may be working on different activities or assignments
  • That the role of the teacher is different (fewer teacher-led activities; more student-led activities)
  • How activities and projects will be assigned
  • How test results will be used (i.e., to evaluate student learning, make instructional decisions, provide feedback to the students, and document progress)
  • How grades will be assigned

Communicating with Students

At the beginning of the year, the teacher should set aside some time to discuss differentiated instruction with his or her students. This helps the teacher and the students to develop a common understanding of what the differentiated classroom will be like and why it will be beneficial. With this understanding, students are more likely to buy into the idea of differentiated instruction. Teachers can use the six questions listed in the table below to develop this understanding. In addition to student objectives, the table includes links to ideas on how to explore each question. Teachers might want to revisit these questions throughout the year.

Developing an Understanding of Differentiated Instruction
Within the first week of school

1. Is everyone good at the same things?


  • Understand that the teacher cares about them
  • Share information about themselves
  • Consider how classmates are similar and different
  • Think about a classroom that addresses everyone’s needs
Exploration Ideas

 2. Should I teach everyone the same way?


  • Understand that everyone has different learning needs
  • Recognize that instructional options are beneficial
 Exploration Ideas

 3. What will classroom instruction be like?


  • Understand that classroom instruction will be different than what they are used to
  • Understand that not everyone will be working on the same activity
 Exploration Ideas

 4. How can I find out about what you need to learn best?


  • Understand that the teacher will monitor (e.g., giving quizzes, asking questions, observing) them throughout the year to find out how to best teach them
 Exploration Ideas
  After students have experienced a differentiated classroom for a few weeks

 5. How is it fair if we are all doing different things to help us learn?


  • Understand that “fair” doesn’t mean “same”; “fair” means that everyone gets what they need to be able to learn
 Exploration Ideas

 6. How we will measure success?


  • Understand that grades don’t always reflect success
  • Recognize that success is equal to working hard and growing, which ultimately leads to reaching or exceeding your goals
 Exploration Ideas
 Adapted from Tomlinson & Imbeau (2010).  

Communicating with Parents

Teacher with parentParent-school partnerships are essential to improving educational outcomes for all students. In order to establish good parent-school partnerships, school personnel need to remember the rules of basic courtesy when communicating with all parents, taking into consideration different cultural, linguistic, educational, economic, and racial backgrounds. Given the great diversity of families, teachers need to acknowledge that several means of communication (e.g., email, phone calls, notes home, Website notices) might be necessary if all parents are to be reached. At the beginning of the school year, the teacher should establish communication with the parents. In addition to explaining how he or she will be using differentiated instruction, the teacher can encourage parents to share information about their child so that he or she can learn more about each student and their individual strengths and needs. The boxes below offer some suggestions on how best to communicate with parents.

Written Materials Personal Interactions
  • Provide information in the parents’ native language, when possible.
  • Use simple language instead of professional jargon.
  • Use an appropriate reading level.
  • Attend to parental requests or responses in a timely manner.
  • Allow time for a response.
  • Be aware of personal space, touching, and eye contact.
  • Be sensitive to different communication styles.
  • Be aware of parent availability and their schedules (e.g., parents who work second shift and sleep during the day).

Learn how Michelle Giddens addressed the issue of fairness in regard to students getting different assignments (time: 1:53).  


Michelle Giddens, MEd
Assistant Principal Intern
Former Third-Grade Teacher
Sarasota, FL 

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