Creating a classroom climate and culture that allows for differentiated instruction

Sometimes students think that differentiated assignments are unfair - that other students might get easier assignments, or their own assignments might be too long or complicated.

To make DI work, each teacher needs to help students see that "Fair isn't always equal." Students need to understand that there are different types of learners in their classroom, and this means different types of assignments. They need to understand that everyone is working toward the same learning goals, but there are different routes to get there. Some need more time, some need more structure, some want more choices, some like to be creative - you could have your class list all the ways they might be different in their learning preferences and needs. The section of this wiki on "Learning Preferences - Task Menus" lists two ways of thinking about learning styles. You might put those kinds of learning differences on the board and ask your students to talk about where they think they fit best.

Creating a climate and culture where students respect others' learning styles takes times, patience and understanding. It also takes the whole school. It's hard for students to go from a class that values diversity in learning to one where there are no choices and no opportunities to be an individual. So all teachers in a school need to talk about and plan for making their classrooms places where all students feel welcomed, respected, and valued for their contributions.

Carol Ann Tomlinson has an excellent book chapter that talks about classroom learning environments:

Nancy M. Doda ( has a nice way of talking about these things with students. In a presentation at the Walloon Conference in 2008, she shared "Our Message to Students"
  • It is safe here to be who you are.
  • It is safe to take risks and to make mistakes.
  • There are many roads to our destination.
  • None of us is as smart as all of us.
  • There is always another way to succeed.

Assignment: Choose one of the following, then use the discussion tab for this page to write your response:
  • Tell us about how you've established an open and respectful climate in your classroom. -or-
  • Read the chapter by Carol Ann Tomlinson and comment on what strikes you as especially meaningful. -or-
  • Let us know what kinds of learning approaches you see in your own classroom. -or-
  • Choose your own response!