From Differentiation to Individualization

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Driving Objective

When education works to reach each individual learner, it creates opportunities to recognize and apply strengths, interests, and values while applying voice and choice to the everyday education of all learners.

What would it do to a school if we recognized and applied the strengths, interests, and values of each learner as individuals? How would this empower our learners and give them a deeper purpose in learning? 


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Each learner is an individual who is developing their own strengths, interests, and values and whose voice and choice should be recognized in their everyday learning and everyday assignments. When we empower learners by connecting their passions to academics, they are more likely to put an increased effort into their work which will make the learning more purposeful.

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Starting by developing an understanding of the strengths, interests, and values within each learning then moving on to recognizing these qualities in each individual learner can empower learners and create a more effective learning experience.

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Recognizing strengths, interests, and values, can begin with the Thrively Strengths Assessment. How powerful would it be if we used those strengths along with what we notice about each individual student and applied it to their academics? For example, if a student is interested in makeup, have them volunteer for theater and help with the play. If a student is struggling to demonstrate compassion, pair them up with a student who had this strength and give them support as they learn from each other.


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When our lessons are more individualized and allow for voice and choice, they are:

  • More relevant to challenges that are being faced today
  • More meaningful and applicable to tasks that are immediate
  • More reasons to create quality work now
  • More purposeful, which will help increase retention of learning

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The 4 Cs – Communication, collaboration, creativity & innovation, and thinking critically – according to P21 are skills that are essential to helping our students develop because they are necessary for tackling  tasks and largert challenges. We can provide opportunities to develop these skills by connecting learners to global audiences, allowing students to create projects based on learning, and starting conversations about the world of work

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Together, we can develop a growth mindset with our learners so that when challenges arise, we have a community of school support and resources at hand that will help us work through those challenges together – creatively and collaboratively while using communication skills and critical thinking.

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Developing a growth mindset to help students continue developing their strengths and recognizing the strengths in others is one way that we can create meaningful groups and help individualize our lessons so that each student sees the purpose and value in their learning. 

Images Taking Differentiation Further to Provide Individulaized Learning.034Encourage the conversation about voice and choice to start so that everyone is aware of why individuality in learning is important. This can begin with both understanding and applying students’ strengths, interests, and values. This does not mean that each student should have a separate assignment. Instead, it means that the students should have the opportunity to demonstrate their learning in a way that is best for them – a blog, an iMovie, an interview, a digital media presentation, etc. Talking to our learners and understanding more about how they would like to demonstrate their learning can make them feel more empowered than if they are given an assignment that is created by the teacher for the teacher. We can remove limitations on learning by making sure that we give options that will best apply to each individual learner.

For more research and information on this, download our Hypedoc (a document with links embedded in the text) from participate:

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This document has links to all of the research presented in this article:


Communication Styles

Among the challenges in education is recognizing the individual needs of each learner. One of the most basic needs that we should understand, especially when we are using technology so much throughout the day, is how each individual most effectively communicates. Recognizing and respecting this can be crucial when we are working with our teams as well. I make a point of not only recognizing but also respecting this because  the primary task is to understand what method is the best form of communication and then the secondary task is to follow through and respect the needs of your audience.

When we are thinking about the different styles of communication, we can categorize them in many different ways. Based on what I have seen from our students and our staff, the most relevant categorizations for styles of communication are:

  • Verbal: face to face interactions where listening is required and body language reflects emotion
  • Digital: any communication done with technology, provides time to reflect on information and articulate a response
  • Written: can be a combination of digital and face to face

So, with a classroom full of students and school full of educators, how do we work to respect everyone’s preferred style of communication and why is this important?

Why to Respect Communication Style

Communication Styles

I love this image because it shows all of the various forms of communication in one room. We see students on computers and devices – this is what I notice first probably because that is something I am passionate about. However, there is more going on. Each student is demonstrating their preferred style of communication in this image. We have one kid who is on his phone, others who are working on MacBook devices, and one kid who is so disinterested in his device that he has turned it upside and is probably looking around the room for someone to talk to face to face. It is the subtle recognition of communication styles that can help to build the foundation of a positive classroom community. When we communicate in effective ways, our needs and objectives are heard and more likely to be met.

How to Respect Communication Styles

With most things, people are empowered when their voice and choice is heard and respected. The same can go for communication styles. The first need is to recognize how the audience will most effectively communicate with you. From there, it is simply giving the opportunity to respond in ways that are conducive to their voice and choice. We can do this by removing limitations on the way that learners can respond to questions and on how they can complete their work.


Allow these communicators to record a conversation they are having with other verbal students. They can still be held accountable by turning in the audio recording, but their conversations are purposeful because they are meeting the objective of the task while their voice and choice are both being respected.

If you are giving instructions, these are the learners who need to be able to hear your every word. If there are disruptions, that could hinder their overall understanding.



Allow these learners to meet your objective by giving them the option to create a product that demonstrates their learning. This could be a keynote presentation, an infographic, an email, even a social media post.

These are the communicators who are most likely to be on their devices constantly – walking and texting or sending messages to their peers via social media. By respecting their passionate use of technology, we can support them as they learn how to develop these skills and become respectful digital communicators.

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Those who prefer their communication to be done in the written form are more likely to be reflective people. This means that they typically like to read something and think about it. The written communication allows them to think at their own pace. They may even feel rushed when needing to respond to someone face to face. Allow these learners to meet your objective by encouraging them to be the recorder in your literature circles, help out someone who is absent by taking notes for them, and give them opportunities and time to write down their thoughts and reflections.

The written communicators can also be digital communicators in the sense that they may prefer to use their device to complete their notes or write to others. You can respect their voice and choice during your lessons by allowing them time to make notes and by giving them time to reflect throughout the lesson.

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Voice and choice are concepts that we should be consistently thinking about as we plan and teach lessons. When we think about it in terms of communication, we start to recognize that we can guide our students to communicate in ways that are most effective for them. This may even help with classroom conflict because the harm often occurs when one person does not feel listened to or respected. Therefore, by encouraging our classroom community to recognize and respect how others prefer to communicate, we can set them up for success.

This is also relevant within our grade level teams. For example, I know that I always need an email follow-up because I am a blend of digital and written communication. I am more likely to do a task well if I have the opportunity to go back and reread what the expectations are in an email or on a OneNote. When we recognize and respect these needs within our own teams, we are more likely to be productive and effective.

I encourage you all to think about how you prefer to communicate and to discuss with your teams and students to see how their communication styles  differ. We may find other communication styles too!

Zest & Gratitude

Character education is one of the many ways that we work on supporting our students as they develop social emotional skills. Character strengths are called “strengths” because we want to portray the message that these are not just traits that remain the same throughout life; instead they are strengths that can be developed and fostered throughout life.

Keeping in mind that all of our character strengths are crucial to the success of every individual learner, in order to maintain a focus on recognizing these strengths and developing them within our students, we choose two each quarter to concentrate on. Although we are only focusing on two each quarter, this does not mean that the other strengths are not recognized, celebrated, or brought up daily. Character education is also not a separate component of the typical classroom academics. Instead, it is continuously recognized and mentioned throughout the day. While a majority of teachers focus on character strengths during their trust circles or community meetings, they are also brought up during all academic lessons in order to remind students that certain character strengths will be relevant as they tackle specific tasks.

This quarter, we are focusing on zest and gratitude.

  • Zest: actively participate, show enthusiasm, approach new situations with excitement and energy

    Gratitude: notice when others help, say thank you, show appreciation for the good things in life, do nice things

Both of these character strengths were strategically chosen for this quarter because, during the third quarter, we have noticed that learners can easily feel stressed with the amount of intense review and strategic grouping being done. In order to truly keep students at the center of our decision making, we have recognized that zest and gratitude are the two skills they need the most in quarter three, and therefore, we have chosen those two to focus on.


It is a common misconception that zest is based on circumstances and situations as well as general personality type. However, when we think about zest as the “ability to approach new situations with excitement and energy,” we realize that part of it is being open minded. Teaching zest can be challenging when we only think of it as being excited or happy. Instead, we can teach zest as the ability to explore new things with a positive approach. We can also provide more opportunities for students to experience new situations that may ignite some passion in their learning. The more opportunities we provide to students and the more we listen to their interests and apply them to their academic learning, the more enthusiastic they will be about their learning. Allowing the students to have voice and choice in their learning will give them opportunities to feel zest and help them be even more open minded to changes and new experiences.




There are two parts to gratitude – recognition and expression.

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”

-William Arthur

Before a learner can feel gratitude, they must recognize that something kind has been done. Then, once that has been noticed, they can express their gratitude through their actions and words. When we are talking about gratitude with our students, it is important to make sure that they understand how to express their gratitude. Gratitude is not only about saying thank you, instead, it can also be done through our facial expressions, our actions, and our physical gestures. The Tiny Buddha has 50 great ways to express gratitude.

When thinking about character education, one of the most important things that we can do is to be continuous models for our students. When we exemplify the character strengths and recognize them in each other, the students sense that there is a community of support and they see the positive impact this can have.

More Resources on Character Strengths: