How Can Instruction Be Differentiated For Diverse Learners?

Reference: Barrett, L. (2013). Seamless teaching: Navigating the inclusion spectrum. Teaching Tolerance, 52(43), 53055.

It boggles my mind to think not too long ago schools could deny a student from attending just because they have a disability. My generation was very fortunate to begin schooling during the time when the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, formally known as Education for All Handicapped Children Act; Public Law 94-142, had already been implemented. This law was enacted in 1975, and has been revised several times. Before 1975, students with disabilities were denied access to education. The Education for All Handicapped Children Act; Public Law 94-142 provided free, appropriate, public education (FAPE) for children with disabilities in a least restrictive environment (LRE). In 1986 the Act authorized programs for early intervention for infants and toddlers with disabilities. In 1990, Congress reauthorized this Act to be called Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA continued to require schools to provide a free, appropriate and public education in the least restricted environment. It also added transitional services for students going from high school to post-secondary education, as well as adult living. IDEA focused on access. In 1997, it broadened the definition of access to not only physical access, but also access to the general education curriculum.

The Individuals with Disability Education Act requires all of the students with disabilities to have a laid out individualized educational plan, also known as an IEP. Teachers, both special education and general education, students’ parents/legal guardians, schools’ speech language pathologists and audiologists all come together in an Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARD) meeting where they determine if the student is eligible for special education and also where they create the student’s individualized education plan. An IEP states certain goals each student needs to meet. Also, it includes any accommodations or modifications each student gets in the classroom. Most students will need accommodations. These do not change what a student is supposed to learn; they are all about access and how a student learns the material. Some examples of accommodations are: presentation – gives different ways for students to access information/materials; response – gives different ways for students to give responses to assignment; setting – changes the environment; timing/scheduling – extends times/due dates. Some students with more severe disabilities will require modifications. These change what a student is expected to learn. A few examples of modifications are: completes part of the assignment, curriculum expectations below grade level, alternate curriculum goals, or alternate assessments.

Horace Mann stated, “all people should receive the same level of education” (Brackemyre, n.d.). However, we now know that this is not an efficient way to teach students. All students, whether they have a disability or not, learn differently. A teacher wants to set up his or her classroom in a way that will bring out every student’s strengths. One best approach is the Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which according to Barrett is “based on the philosophy that there is no one way in which individuals learn and that lessons, curriculum and classroom configuration should be designed, from the outset, with the needs of diverse students in mind” (2013). UDL has three guidelines to follow when setting up instructional goals, methods, materials and assessments – 1) Provide multiple means of representation; presenting the material in different ways, such as reading instructions out loud and have them follow along with written instructions, 2) Provide multiple means of expression; allowing the students to demonstrate what they know in different ways. For example, if the assignment is to write an essay, a student could, instead of turning in a written hard copy, turn in a verbal essay, 3) Provide multiple means of engagement; creating an environment that keeps the students engaged. Another great approach is the differentiated instruction (DI) approach. This is a “process of modifying instruction and assessment, as needed, to meet the learning needs of a particular student” (Barrett, 2013). Teachers can create lesson plans or assessments several different ways based on the individual student’s interests, abilities and knowledge.

It was heartbreaking to watch the video of Norman Kunc showing what his life would have been like growing up in the 60s if he had been sent to an institution. The only thing holding back my tears was knowing that his parents did not follow the doctor’s advice in institutionalizing him. Kunc was able to go to school and continue on to get a master’s degree in Family Therapy. It was horrible how people with disabilities used to be treated. The perceptions of people with disabilities become better over time; however, it was very, very gradual; they were seen as sub-human. Non-disabled individuals thought they needed to cure those who were disabled. At one point in time, individuals who were disabled were basically removed from society and were denied any human rights.

I found the multiple intelligences (MI) very interesting. This follows the pattern that a one-size-fits-all approach is not an appropriate or efficient way to teach and assess students. The strength of MI is that it shows how diverse students can be when learning in a classroom. Howard Garner proposed the theory of eight different intelligences.

  1. “Verbal-linguistic intelligence refers to an individual’s ability to analyze information and produce work that involves oral and written language, such as speeches, books, and emails.
  2. Logical-mathematical intelligence describes the ability to develop equations and proofs, make calculations, and solve abstract problems.
  3. Visual-spatial intelligence allows people to comprehend maps and other types of graphical information.
  4. Musical intelligence enables individuals to produce and make meaning of different types of sound.
  5. Naturalistic intelligence refers to the ability to identify and distinguish among different types of plants, animals, and weather formations found in the natural world.
  6. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence entails using one’s own body to create products or solve problems.
  7. Interpersonal intelligence reflects an ability to recognize and understand other people’s moods, desires, motivations, and intentions.
  8. Intrapersonal intelligence refers to people’s ability to recognize and assess those same characteristics within themselves” (Multiple Intelligences: What Does the Research Say?, 2013).

One weakness of this theory is that it can lead to teachers putting students in specific categories. From what I gathered after reading this article, the point of the multiple intelligence test is to show that all students learn differently, but that does not mean “strength in one area [predicts] weakness in another” (Multiple Intelligences: What Does the Research Say?, 2013). Teachers can use the students’ results to determine what modifications or accommodations are needed, and figure out the best way to help students learn in diverse ways.


Barrett, L. (2013). Seamless teaching: Navigating the inclusion spectrum. Teaching Tolerance, 52(43), 53-55.

Brackemyre, T. (n.d.). Education to the Masses: The Rise of Public Education in Early America. U.S. History Scene [blog post]. Retrieved from

Multiple intelligences, what does the research say? (2013, March 8). Edutopia. Retrieved from


6 thoughts on “How Can Instruction Be Differentiated For Diverse Learners?

  1. I agree with your interpretation of the Multiple Intelligences concept. Gardner actually addressed the misapplication of his research (Strauss, 2013). He pointed out that people treat the MI as if it is the only way a student can learn and confuse the concept with the faulty idea of learning styles (Strauss, 2013). I agree with you that they are an aspect that a teacher can analyze about a student and apply when needed. If a student is struggling with a concept than looking at a student’s strengths and restructuring a lesson to accommodate that strength could help reach the child, however students typically possess all realms of intelligence although at varying strengths and educators should focus on strengthening the whole of a child’s mental ability not just the area where a child already feels confident (Multiple Intelligences: What does the research say?, 2013; Strauss, 2013).

    Bilingual education is another area where teachers need to take into account student diversity and possibly restructure education (Gándara 2015; Krutka, 2015). If a teacher works with that student and their family they can help make that child’s culture and language a foundation for learning (Gándara 2015). Dr. Stewart, in the YouTube video by Dr. Krutka, discussed how teaching languages should take into account that the child already has skills just not the language skills in the new language (Krutka, 2015). Based on what Dr. Stewart said, it’s clear to see that a student utilizing their proficiency in another language and their understanding of a skill is a great way to help a student learn a new language while also keeping their first language relevant (Krutka, 2015).

    I regret to say I didn’t know about IDEA until this week. I’m glad that programs, as described by Barrett (2013), exist so that students can reach their full potential in a system that works with them instead of against them. Do you think there are any areas where IDEA and other programs for students with dis/abilities could be improved? I liked how Barrett (2013) mentioned classes having both a special education teacher and a general education teacher in the classroom and making it to where someone not-in-the-know wouldn’t realize that one was special education. I think that encourages academic success instead of making a child feel different.

    Additional References

    Gándara, P. (2015). Rethinking bilingual instruction. Educational Leadership, 72(6), 60-64.

    Krutka, D. [Dan Krutka]. (2015, September 15). Approaches to Bilingual Education [Video file]. Retrieved from

    Strauss, V. (2013, October 16). Howard Gardner: ‘Multiple intelligences’ are not ‘learning styles.’ The Washington Post. Retrieved from


  2. Hello Amy! I found your blog post to mirror what I found to be interesting also. Specifically, I think Howard Gardner’s theory on multiple intelligences to be very insightful. After reading the article Multiple Intelligences: What Does the Research Say? (n.a., 2013) I took the quiz and discovered I am very high in intrapersonal intelligence with 81% while naturalistic and linguistic intelligence tied with 75%. I always knew I was better at writing and reading information, but the other intelligences fascinated me, but they are very true to my personality. Along with that, I really thought that the video about the school specializing in multiple intelligences was really a step in education. Specialized schools like that one demonstrate the versatility of schools and the education field. Now, I really want to study these intelligences and incorporate them in my classroom. This, I believe, goes hand-in-hand with differentiating instructions in the classroom. Along with that, I agree with your statement about how individuals with dis/abilities were treated horribly in the past. It’s shocking to witness how easy it is for society to “turn a blind eye” on those who seem inable to learn. Luckily, there was a happy story following Norman Kunc and his successful life; this definitely highlighted the importance of decisions and how it can alter an individual’s life drastically. I teach first graders so I think it is crucial to lead each student on a path towards a successful school career and resulting in career choices and contribution in society. Thank you again for your post!


    Multiple intelligences, what does the research say? (2013, March 8). Edutopia. Retrieved from

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Amy,

    I found this blog absolutely fascinating! I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to meet Ruben Lamas. He was about 2 years older than me and was my childhood friends older brother. During childbirth Ruben did not get enough oxygen to his brain and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. He was the most loving and bright 6’1 young man I had ever met. Ruben was originally born in Mexico and was able to come to the United States where he was given the education that everyone deserves. Just like Norman Kunc, Ruben had a loving family who did not give up on him by putting him in a Mexican institution. Ruben would go to school with his sister and he had the same opportunities just like any other child thanks to Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This law that mandated that all children with disabilities receive a free appropriate education. Ruben was able to graduate high school.

    I completely agree that one type of learning style does not apply to all children, especially when it comes to a child with special needs. Co-teaching, or collaborative teaching, is widely considered the gold standard for educating students with special needs, but inclusion looks different at different schools (Barrett, 2013). I think that the Multiple Intelligences will continue to grow especially once we have more research on the different teaching styles with children with disabilities. I agree with you on the fact that it can lead to teachers putting students in specific categories or labels. In the video, Multiple Intelligences Thrive in Smartville, we saw how one school incorporated different learning styles and applied it to how the student would use the subject they are learning in every day scenarios. I believe if we incorporate the way they teach in more of our public schools we could potentially improve our education system.

    Barrett, L. (2013). Seamless Teaching: Navigating the Inclusion Spectrum. Teaching Tolerance, 52(43), 53-55.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hey Amy,

    I really liked your thoughts on that Horace Mann quote. If the education we provide is of a good quality, students should be able to graduate with the same skills and knowledge. That might mean some students receive extra tutoring or extra accommodations, but they will have a solid education. This ‘same level of education’ Mann proposes needs to make way for an educational process in which the ways we teach reflect the ways students learn, not the other way around. We put a lot of pressure on students to learn all the skills they will need to be successful for the future, so we need to support them better while they are trying to learn those skills.

    If a student needs an IEP, it is the responsibility of those making the plan to be advocates for the student. An IEP is meant to facilitate learning and help the student meet their education goals, whether that means different instructional methods, due dates, or assignment parameters. It seems like this would tie into the perpetual debate about testing and other methods of evaluation. It would be impossible to argue that testing is the best indicator of learning. I’ve heard about some teachers taking non-traditional approaches to assessment, but I hope to see these methods more widespread in the future, especially as someone who doesn’t always test well. Providing these multiple assessment types will help all students see their progress more accurately reflected and help teachers understand where their students really are in their coursework.

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m glad we were able to come to a point where we realized that everyone deserved to go to school and receive an education regardless of religious belief, wealth status, ability or whatever it may be. Accessibility is key and ensuring that everyone understands that opportunity is vital to success. I like how you mentioned that it is not just the faculty and staff who come together to develop an IEP but it is a whole multidisciplinary effort between the parents, speech pathologists, and many more in order to create a plan that will work best for the particular student. In regards to creating goals for students to meet, how often do you think these should be evaluated? I believe it is necessary for the team to meet as each goal is met, or biweekly in order to ensure that everyone is on the same page with the IEP.

    It is important, as future educators, to understand that no two students learn the exact same way. We must remember that variety is key. Not only does variety reach out to different learning styles, but it allows a different method for lessons to be conveyed. Also, varying teaching methods engages students which enhances their learning experience.

    Although students with disabilities are in the school setting with everyone, do you think they are being offered the proper opportunity for education in order to prepare them for their future? I’m glad there has been a lot of progress in how we treat and educate students with disabilities; however, I think there is still a long way we can go.

    It is amazing to me how there are so many various ways in which individuals can learn and be taught. It fascinates me that from music to body movements to reading or listening there are so many methods to reach all your students. Do you think teachers are truly grasping/utilizing variety in their teaching methods? I also liked that quote you put in from the article about how, “Strength in one area does not mean weakness in another” (2013). It is important to remind students that although they may feel comfortable learning one way does not mean they should shut down other methods in learning. We must remember and remind students to keep an open mind and they may just find that they discover styles to their learning they were not originally aware of.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Amy Mulkey’s blog about differentiating instruction for diverse learners addressed Special Education laws, Horace Mann, and theories like Multiple Intelligence, Universal Design, etc. Bilingualism needs to be addressed. One of our classmates recently “tweeted” that American Sign Language needs to be considered Bilingualism.
    A question to consider is how do education laws and theories apply to Deaf Culture? For example, in my work in special education, I used the IEP (Individual Education Plan) as my main guide and when there was a question, I always asked my supervisor what to do.
    Two students with auditory challenges last year struggled with day to day learning. We taught them to use their unique skills to be successful. One student was a cowboy and an amazing artist. As a reward he was allowed to make pictures of horses. The other student needed hands on and a lot of repetition. Both students were intelligent and learned to compensate despite their challenges.
    Real world scenarios make the story come alive for the reader. My question still is: What is day to day work in a school for the deaf like? How do laws and theories affect day to day learning? I want to know the answers to these questions because I have never worked in a deaf school and would like to know what it is like.
    In conclusion, all of these laws, theories and approaches are designed for and about people. One main style of how I learn is: interpersonal learner (Gardner, 1983). Education to me is a chance to connect and learn from others. Explaining real life scenarios can help future teachers practice the art of educating our fellow citizens and classmates.

    Liked by 1 person

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