Classroom Differentiation – Like at the Health Club

By: Mary Kienstra on: June 24, 2016  in: #tlap, differentiation, Engagement, ,

This is the time when teachers make those summer resolutions.  They’re not unlike New Year Resolutions, except they have a summer spin.  Every summer my list includes read more, exercise more, and organize my house.  The actual projects might vary, but the ideas are the same every summer.  Working on my “exercise more” resolution, I realized that the health club offers the ultimate in differentiation.  Everyone there is working at their own pace on what they need to do.  Classroom differentiation should be like at the health club.

I am a runner.  Not a fast runner, but a steady and consistent runner.  I don’t need a class to teach me how to run, just time to practice running.  I keep running because the more I run, the easier it gets.


I am not very flexible and I’m not too strong.  I take Yoga classes and weight lifting classes to work on these.  These classes are always part of my summer resolution.


Yoga is differentiated naturally, each participant working at their own pace.

In my Yoga class, the teacher announces over and over what modifications to make if you need them.  She comes around and helps each person, modeling and adjusting.  I trust this teacher and know she is helping me to practice Yoga, to become more flexible and stronger.


Lift the amount that is just right for you.

In my “total body fitness” class, we use free weights to improve muscle strength.  This class offers the ultimate in differentiation as each person chooses the amount of weight appropriate for him/her.  The teacher never tells us how heavy our weights should be or makes us feel inferior for not lifting more weight.  If a person needs a challenge, they choose to lift heavier weights or try more difficult moves.

These experiences made me realize the importance of differentiation in my own classroom.  Everyone should be “lifting just the right amount of weight” – not too much and not too little.  The teacher should be the coach, guiding each student, giving just enough guidance.  Of course, this approach gives more responsibility to the students.  Each student needs to work at their own level, choosing the right amount of challenge in order to keep growing.

When school starts this year, I’m going back with renewed focus on differentiation.  I know each kid needs the right amount of challenge, that not everyone needs the same things to be successful.  The biggest thing is to find out what guidance and instruction each student needs and then to design an environment and instruction to make that work. They shouldn’t all be lifting the same amount.


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