Differentiate the Learning Not the Assignments

Kristen KoppersBlog, Lesson Plan Better, Personalize Student Learning Better

In This Post:

  • Identify how to differentiate learning experiences versus only modifying assignments.
  • See an example of how to differentiate your lesson instead of the materials or activities.
  • Lighten your workload! Modify your instruction for all students to succeed instead of differentiating materials for each unique learner.

Many times, we think of Differentiated Instruction (DI) as a method to make anywhere between 30 – 150 different assignments. We think that if a student has an IEP, 504 Plan, or needs extra help, it is essential to create or modify assignments based on different learning abilities. But using DI is not about just modifying or recreating assignments, it is about focusing on all of our students’ ability to learn and understand.

Let’s take “Lucy” for an example:

“Lucy” does not have a modified plan, but does have a difficult time understanding how to analyze a character. Every time the word ‘analysis’ is mentioned, she focuses on a summary of the character. What teachers have done in the past is reteach the lesson to ensure all students are learning. I am not saying that this is a bad idea. But what about the students who understand how to analyze? Right now, they are having side conversations, using their phones, their heads are down, or they are just drifting into the unknown. “Lucy” does not want to be labeled or singled out, but she does get the opportunity to learn just as the other students.

Instead of differentiating the assignments, why don’t we differentiate the learning? By straying away from the “curriculum,” I am able to engage all students, even “Lucy” throughout the lesson. “Lucy” may not be able to analyze a character, but she definitely has an opinion about movies. I asked “Lucy” what was the most recent movie she saw. She answered, “The Avengers End Game.” I asked how many students saw the movie. It wasn’t a surprise that many others saw it, too. But in order not to ruin it for those who did not see it, I kept the lesson short.

Instead of differentiating the assignments, why don't we differentiate the learning? Click To Tweet

First, I asked the students to write down a quick (non-revealing) summary of the movie. For the students who did not see it, I asked them to write down a summary of the last Avengers movie they saw (surprisingly, they all saw at least one of the Avengers). I collected their brief summaries and read them aloud. The ones that saw the movie were similar to the trailer. I asked the class, “What do all these have in common?” A simple answer was that they were very similar.

[scroll down to keep reading]

Next, I asked the students to write down what they thought of the movie. And as I read what the students wrote (I made sure not to ruin the movie for those who have not seen it), I asked again, “What do all these have in common?” This time the answer was different. After this exercise, I explained the difference between a summary and an analysis.

Sometimes we feel that it is necessary to modify assignments to ensure all students succeed, when, in fact, all we need to do is modify the lesson we teach. I have always believed in Work Smarter Not Harder. Why put more work on teachers to differentiate to all learning styles when all we need to do is differentiate the lesson we are teaching for all students to succeed?


Kristen Koppers is a blogger, presenter, self-published author, and high school educator as well as an adjunct teacher at the local junior college. She has been teaching for more than fifteen years and is currently teaching high school English in Illinois. She is a Google Certified Educator and National Board Certified Teacher. Kristen has a master’s degree in English and a second in Education Administration.

Kristen wrote the book Differentiated Instruction the Teacher Profession as a way to share her ideas of how to use Differentiated Instruction inside the classroom. As an educator, it is important to find innovative ways to meet the needs of her students. Kristen is often on Twitter (@Mrs_Koppers) participating in chats and collaborating with other educators. It’s easy to share DI ideas on Twitter (#DITeaching).

Visit Kristen’s Website: kristenkoppers.wixsite.com/koppers
Connect With Kristen On Linkedln: Kristen Koppers