It is no secret that all people are different, and all people learn in different ways.

Students in
grade school are no different than anyone else on the planet – they are different, and therefore
access information in different ways. Expert teachers are well aware of this fact and in fact
differentiate lessons so that each student is able to reach the success criteria, much like giving
students a destination and allowing them to choose which route to take to get there.
A study conducted at Indiana University of incoming college freshmen details how to create a
climate where each student has an equal opportunity for success. Their six guidelines are as
1. Teach students how to take control of their own learning
2. Use orientation programs to help students discover their preferred learning
approaches and activities
3. Help faculty members become familiar with different learning styles and to adapt
their pedagogical approaches accordingly
4. Assess students’ prior learning from work and life experiences as well as from formal
and informal educational activities
5. Strengthen support for individualized learning contracts
6. Provide prompt, detailed, and personalized feedback (Chickering, Kuh and Indiana
University Center for Postsecondary Research, 2005).
While these guidelines were written based upon college freshmen, the concept still translates to
younger children. If a teacher is able to teach students how to take control of their own learning
by, for example, providing learning targets as a “checklist” that each individual student must hit
throughout the lesson, then students are better able to self-monitor and ask necessary questions
of the teacher throughout the lesson to increase their learning.
An orientation program in college would be similar to getting-to-know you activities that are
conducted at the beginning of the year in most classrooms. If during this process a teacher
learns, for example, that a student does not have good handwriting, but is capable of typing an
entire paper on their smartphone, the teacher can allow the student to use that to their advantage
and turn in papers that have been typed just as easily as students who are sitting in the classroom
who would rather handwrite the paper.
Professional development needs to be centered on teaching teachers how to differentiate. If there
is one educational buzzword that many people use that most have the most difficulty
implementing, it is differentiation. Differentiation in itself is a fabulous idea, however, many
teachers are not using it to their full potential because they think they need to create three
different worksheets for each lesson, when in truth, differentiation can be achieved simply by
who the students are partnered up with and the types of questions that the teacher asks
If the teacher, at the beginning of the year, has students create and sign individualized learning
contracts that are continuously revisited throughout the year, (similar to choosing a major in
college), then the student is taking charge of his or her own learning. This allows the student to
hold him or herself accountable for communicating information to the teacher regarding how the
teacher is allowing the student to reach the goals outlined in his or her contract.

Finally, timely, detailed feedback is essential to learning, and the benefits of different types of
feedback are detailed in the “feedback” section of this tip sheet.
Chickering, A. W., Kuh, G. D., & Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research, N. E.
(2005). Promoting Student Success: Creating Conditions So Every Student Can Learn.
Occasional Paper No. 3. National Survey Of Student Engagement,