Individualized Instruction: It Doesn't Have to Be the Death of You!

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Individualized Learning

You might think that individualized instruction, a better term being differentiated instruction, means a lot of extra work for the teacher. While it can mean exactly that, it doesn’t have to, provided that teachers structure their classroom differently than before. What does that look like? Actually, it probably means letting go some control and allowing a little more flexibility in how you run your classroom. If you believe in keeping a tight ship and having everyone do the same thing, this might not be for you. But if you love the idea of chaos in the classroom and kids engrossing themselves in subjects that pique their interest, keep reading!

Mastery Learning

Differentiated instruction is a method of teaching that puts the student in control of his learning and expects that student to organize his materials and work at his own pace. It means that students get to follow their own continuum of development without having to move on even though he doesn’t understand a concept as quickly as the rest of the class. Mastery learning can be utilized in this classroom. Students build on skills that have been mastered. This is really what we all want for our students, right? For most teachers, the problem lies in the execution.

Getting Started

If you think you might be up to the challenge, here are some simple ways to incorporate differentiated instruction into your classroom. There are three things you need to be aware of before you get started: student interests, abilities and what the student has already learned.

Begin with a contract. Students will sign this contract that specifies what they are responsible for in their own learning. The student is now in control of how he learns and the teacher becomes more of a facilitator. What is included in the contract will depend on what you, as the teacher, wants your students to be responsible for in class. This could be turning in assignments a certain way, keeping logs or journals, or completing projects as assigned within certain guidelines.


Pre-assessments, which could be just simple quizzes, should be utilized to determine how much knowledge the student has of an upcoming concept. Some students may have no prior knowledge, while others may have a basic understanding and are ready to learn higher level skills. Once you know where the students are, you can make assignments that will meet each student’s needs.

The Process of Learning

Student interest and learning styles are taken into consideration, and dictate how the student learns the material. Some may choose to listen to tapes about the subject, while others may study concepts on the Internet. Novels may be read about a subject in order to gain outlined objectives. Students could prepare a plan and turn it in to the teacher to show how he will accomplish each goal. Depending on the student’s level, a list of questions can be given to the student. Students can be grouped together or choose to work alone.

A Final Product

At the end of the lesson or unit, students complete an end product. Some may choose to complete a test, while others could write a paper or complete a project on the topic. Other students may wish to make a tape of themselves explaining the concept in-depth. Teachers can offer a set of choices or choose to allow students to pick something and then run the idea by the teacher for approval. In the end, the understanding of the concept should be somehow demonstrated at that student’s level of ability.

Individualized instruction may take some extra time in the beginning, but before long it will become second nature. You’ll be meeting students at their level, and filling in some of those educational gaps too. In the long run, your students will benefit, so go ahead and give it a shot!

This post is part of the series: Differentiated Instruction

If you keep doing things the same way, you’re going to get the same results. These suggestions for differentiated instruction will make the transition possible.

  1. High School Grading Policies: Formative vs. Summative Assignments
  2. You Can Provide Individualized Instruction and Still Keep your Sanity!
  3. Four Successful Review Activities for Middle or High School Students
  4. Transform Your Teaching with Learner Focused Strategies