Meeting the needs of all students

Do you implement differentiated learning in your classroom?

Through differentiated planning and programming, teachers can consider students’ varying abilities, learning styles, interests and needs. These individual differences may influence how students respond to instruction and how they demonstrate what they know, understand and can do.

Differentiated instruction is one of many teaching strategies we can incorporate to address students’ needs. It is a method of designing and delivering instruction to reach each student most effectively. In essence, differentiating instruction means creating multiple paths so that students of different abilities, interests or learning needs experience equally appropriate ways of learning.

Research on the effectiveness of differentiation shows this method benefits a wide range of students, from those with learning disabilities to those who are considered ‘high ability’.

How can teachers differentiate?

According to Tomlinson, teachers can differentiate instruction through four ways:

  • Content
  • Process
  • Product
  • Learning environment

The advantages and disadvantages of differentiated instruction include:


  • Research shows differentiated instruction is effective for high-ability students as well as students with mild to severe disabilities.
  • When students are given more options on how they can learn material, they take on more responsibility for their own learning.
  • Students appear to be more engaged in learning, and there are reportedly fewer discipline problems in classrooms where teachers provide differentiated lessons.


  • Differentiated instruction requires more work during lesson planning, and many teachers struggle to find the extra time in their schedule.
  • The learning curve can be steep and some schools lack professional development resources.
  • Critics argue there isn’t enough research to support the benefits of differentiated instruction outweighing the added preparation time.

There are numerous differentiated instruction strategies for teachers to implement in the classroom. These include:

  1. Flexible grouping
  2. Learning stations
  3. Tiered assignments
  4. Adjusting questions
  5. Think-pair-share
  6. Assign open-ended projects.

It makes sense to provide different avenues of learning for students to reach the same destination. With continuous assessment and the use of multiple teaching strategies, teachers can meet the learning needs of all their students.

In the end, the main goal is to strive to engage all learners by attempting to match their needs.

To find out more, explore the following resources

  • A more in-depth explanation and tips on how to start differentiating in your classroom can be found here.
  • Domain 7 or the National School Improvement Tool can be accessed from the Diocesan Learning Framework.
  • For more on Differentiated Programming refer to the NESA website.

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Christine Chapple Image
Christine Chapple

Christine Chapple is Education Officer (Secondary Curriculum) at the Catholic Schools Office
and an experienced teacher of senior students.

Carmel Tapley Image
Carmel Tapley

Carmel Tapley is an Education Officer (Secondary Curriculum) in the Catholic Schools Office and a former mathematics teacher.