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The 6 Myths of Differentiated Instruction

Busting common myths that surround differentiation in the classroom

Differentiated instruction comes in many forms, ideas, and implementations. With all the abundance of tips and tricks out there, there are several myths and preconceptions of differentiation that can really skew your perspective of what differentiation is or isn’t. Today we are going to bust some common myths that surround differentiation in the classroom!

Myth #1
Differentiating means 20 different lesson plans for 20 students

Differentiating your instruction does not mean a different lesson plan for each student. It’s really about understanding the needs of your students and adapting your instruction accordingly. One way to easily differentiate your instruction is to incorporate multiple instructional strategies within the same lesson. By using different instructional strategies within the same lesson, you are increasing the chances of reaching more students. For example, when teaching Perimeters in your 3rd-grade math class, you can incorporate short videos, whole group instruction, partner practice, small group instruction, and even different leveled Perimeter activities in math centers to reach every student.

Myth #2
Building differentiated lesson plans is too hard and time-consuming

Guess what? You are probably already implementing several differentiation strategies and just don’t realize it yet! Graphic organizers, listening to stories on tape, sing-along videos…those are all considered differentiation strategies! Taking it one step deeper to gear those activities to students who you know specifically need them can be easy as well. As teachers, we observe and mostly know each student’s ability. Use that knowledge of your students to gear activities to meet their specific needs. We know that searching for credible activities to use for differentiation can feel a little time consuming but there are several time-saving resources for teachers that can help you understand the needs of your students and find differentiated activities accordingly. For example, Tailor-ED enables you to create differentiated lesson plans with recommended activities based on the students’ needs. Tailor-ED has even incorporated exit tickets for your students to complete at the end of the lesson as an informal assessment for you to track student progress! Differentiation doesn’t have to be time-consuming if you implement the right resources and organization!

Myth #3
Differentiation is confusing for students

Although we wish we could individualize everything for every student, we know that different assignments and assessments for each student might just be too confusing. While this is a valid thought, there is a solution: grouping your students! Student groups are a great way to make differentiation feasible in the classroom while providing clarity and organization to your lesson. By grouping your students by their needs, you can easily differentiate by giving each student group different assignments. A pro tip — prepare ahead of time instructions for each student group so that they can hit the ground running while leaving you time to walk around the room.

Myth #4
Differentiation doesn’t align with standardized testing

Some teachers believe that they’re not preparing their students for standardized tests if they give them differentiated assignments. This is a common misconception! When you use differentiation strategies to teach the curriculum, you’re increasing the chances of a student gaining the knowledge needed to succeed in state testing. In addition, through differentiation, you’re more likely to increase student motivation and engagement which will ultimately lead to better student outcomes. When done thoughtfully, differentiation in the classroom directly supports students’ success in standardized testing.

Myth #5
Students always need to be grouped by proficiency

When teachers hear differentiation, they many times automatically assume that we should be grouping and differentiating instruction according to students’ proficiency levels. The truth is, there are many ways to group students — not just by proficiency. When grouping your students, it’s incredibly important to take into consideration their social-emotional as well as academic needs. When grouping students, we need to be able to look past proficiency and take into consideration the whole-child factors as well, such as motivation, confidence, social aptitude and even cognitive abilities. For example, when you group your students by confidence, you can then apply instructional strategies to help either boost their confidence (i.e. use a structured worksheet) or leverage it to deepen their knowledge (i.e. quest). You can tailor your instruction and activities to meet each groups’ academic and social-emotional needs.

Myth #6
You can’t differentiate Common Core Standards

I can’t differentiate while focusing on teaching Common Core standards — this myth is common when teachers feel like they are forced to teach specific standards a certain way. However, as teachers, we always want to make learning fun! Presenting the material in a variety of different ways through multiple instructional strategies can help keep students interested, while still reaching each student. This can also help keep students engaged and are therefore more likely to put in 100% effort! The best learning is done while students are actively learning, so change it up! Just because you are focused on the Common Core standards, doesn’t mean your lessons can’t be differentiated. Differentiation techniques that fit your students will differ from classroom to classroom and change from year to year. Everything depends on your students! Differentiating is a good thing and can ultimately lead to your students’ academic success. Implement the right resources and strategies to make differentiating in your classroom a breeze!

Tailor-ED is the next generation of differentiated instruction. Teachers use Tailor-ED to create lesson plans that are tailored to the students’ needs. Teachers use Tailor-ED to continuously assess and group students by their needs to create differentiated lesson plans in minutes.