Candle differentiation

Sometimes when I’m scrolling through social media groups for teachers to post their questions I see things like “how can I cater for student A, who has dyslexia, or what should I do to help Student B, with ASD”?

Well, when I read those questions, I tend to think “just be a good teacher!”

So let me explain what I mean by that.

It may seem like only some students in your class will need special treatment. You may expect to encounter a mostly homogenous group of kids in your classroom, with just a few outliers who have a particular diagnosis or are known to you for some other reason. And that those ones will require something different from you: a “to do” list that you can ascertain from more experienced educators and then follow, checking each item off and giving yourself kudos as you go.

Wrong. I would argue that good teaching is good teaching, and will work for everyone. But at the same time, every student will need some form of differentiation from you, and if you’re a good teacher, you’ll take the time to find out what that will look like, each day for each student.

If you teach reading and spelling through synthetic phonics, individualised lists and contextualised robust vocabulary, you’ll be catering not just for that dyslexic student, but also the student will English as a second language, and that other kid who aces all the diagnostic tests.

If you pay attention to student work and take notes, then provide timely, constructive feedback aligned with individual goals, you’ll be doing what’s best not only for your students who’ve been identified as Gifted or Talented for their writing, you’ll also be doing what’s best for the one who hates to put pencil to paper.

If you use a visual timetable for the day’s lessons and follow a stable routine with variations anticipated in advance, you’ll not only be making it a safe and predictable space for that student with ASD, you’ll be creating a positive and calm environment for every student who walks through the door.

If you incorporate humour and narrative in your lesson delivery, creating space for some silliness and joviality, you’ll be easing the anxieties of that student who’s experienced trauma while at the same time lightening the mood for all the children, paving the way for engaged learning.

If you listen to, and read, kids’ stories, you’ll be able to connect with them on a personal level, to find commonalities and explore their interests. If you then incorporate these passions, skills and strengths into the everyday teaching and learning taking place in your learning space, you’ll build a rapport with even the most withdrawn and unreachable of students.

If you give every new boy or girl to your room a clean slate, taking everything you may have heard about them with a grain of salt, and then holding high expectations for their behaviour and their work ethic, then you’ll tame even the wildest of beasts.

If you get rid of all your preconceived notions and stigmas about labels, and instead show them, and tell them, that they’re seen, that they’re valued, and that they belong, you’ll see the best learning outcomes from each and every one.

And if all that somehow fails, don’t go to a textbook or post on a forum. No-one will be able to tell you what will work for your child at your place and time. Go first and foremost to the child. Listen to what they’re saying to you and to their peers, listen to their behaviour, listen to what they’re not saying. And if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know, ask them for the answers. Gather their input, value their ideas, and be willing to try them out.

Be firm and fair. Be approachable. Be kind to yourself so that you can be kind to others.

In other words, just be a good teacher. Or at least try your darndest!


  1. […] You are responsible for doing your best to mentally and emotionally equip students for tests, and for debriefing and letting go of steam afterwards. You are responsible for repeating instruction as many times as it takes for it to stick. You are responsible for differentiating that instruction so that each individual gets what they need. […]


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