Great Teachers Teach Students Not Curriculum

Posted by Adam Moore on 9/22/2015

As every parent and educator knows, every child varies in his or her abilities, interests, readiness to learn, motivation to learn, and ways in which he or she learns. With all of those variables, how is it possible for a teacher to teach a class where every child gets what he or she needs out of each day? The key lies in differentiated instruction.

One of the most foundational understandings of differentiated instruction that must exist in order to create classrooms where differentiated instruction thrives lies in the fact that teachers don’t teach a class or even a curriculum. Great teachers teach individual students. Of course, great teachers need a powerful curriculum, but there is a definitive difference between teachers who focus on the content more than they focus on the student. Differentiated instruction is student-centered not teacher or content centered. Each student in a class has different needs, different experiences and different abilities. Each student brings something unique and different to a learning opportunity. Great teaching not only considers those differences but embraces them and uses those differences to dictate teaching and learning.


Differentiated teaching does not mean that every child has his or her own IEP or that there are sixteen different lessons going on in one classroom, but it does mean that lessons are structured and organized in meaningful ways that allow each child to be challenged at a level that meaningful learning takes place.  Based on Lev Vygotsky’s theory on the Zone of Proximal Development or ZPD, children learn best when tasks are moderately difficult. Too hard and students shut down, too easy and they lose focus. Good differentiated instruction plans for the variance in student’s ZPD and designs lessons that find the “sweet spot” of learning for each student.

As our school has focused on becoming better at differentiated instruction the following quotes from The Differentiated Classroom, Meeting the Needs of All Learners by Carol Ann Tomlinson have been particularly insightful and helpful.

“In a differentiated classroom: A teacher studies student readiness and student interest and connects learning to things that matter to students, and teachers give students varied opportunities to learn in different ways. “

“They are simply teachers who strive to do whatever it takes to ensure that struggling, advanced, and in-between learners; students with varied cultural heritages; and children with a broad array of background experiences all grow as much as they possibly can each day, each week, and throughout the year.”