Teachers everywhere recognize that students have diverse needs, and as a result, differentiation has become a much-discussed concept. And recently, there’s been a big push to make sure that teachers are using strategies to meet the needs of all their students.

According to TpT’s research into the state of differentiation, the vast majority of American educators (95 percent) believe that increased differentiation is effective in meeting student learning goals. But how are elementary and secondary teachers differentiating instruction? Our research and interviews with educators showed that depending on the grade levels they teach, there are differences in the ways teachers say they differentiate instruction. 

Elementary teachers are more likely to use individual or small-group instruction. 

A principal of a K-5 school in Colorado shared that her elementary teachers differentiate reading instruction every day with a leveled reading block. First, they combine students from two grades and then group those students based on their reading levels. The higher-leveled readers participate in a Socratic Seminar, the lowest-leveled readers work on reading interventions with a teacher, and all of the other readers participate in small-group instruction during that time. After finishing with the leveled reading groups, the students return to their classrooms for additional grade-level reading instruction. “So [students] get a differentiated reading group, and they get a whole class reading group,” she said. “I think that’s why we’ve been able to close the gap for kids in great ways.”

Secondary teachers are more likely to use flexible timing or pacing to differentiate.

One Michigan high school math teacher told us that he differentiated a lesson on factoring by offering some of his high school students counting cubes, others a video to watch, and still others an interactive notebook. “I differentiate by bringing the information [to my students] in a different way,” he explained.

No matter their grade level, teachers want to differentiate more frequently.

Despite challenges like time and limited access to materials, the vast majority of educators — regardless of what grade they teach — recognize the opportunity that differentiation provides in ensuring students are learning. Results from our report revealed that teachers would like to differentiate more frequently, with 82 percent of teachers saying that, in an ideal world, differentiation would happen every day.

Want to dig even deeper into all things differentiation? Download our report to read more key findings from our survey.

How can TpT help support differentiation? Our research found that teachers who use TpT agree that TpT helps them differentiate better than they would otherwise by saving them time and providing access to materials that are already differentiated. Explore our resources.


This report originally appeared on EdSurge in September 2019.