Outside the Box

Differentiated Classroom Expectations

Welcome to thinking outside the box!

Everyone is different in various ways. This includes our students. Every student learns differently, has different strengths and weakenesses, and comes from a different background or experience ethan each other student within the class.

Ernst von Glaserfeld wrote that "From the [student]'s point of view, on the biological level as on the cognitive one, the environment is no more or no less than the sum of constraints within which the [student] can operate. The [student]’s activities and operations are successful when they are not impeded or foiled by constraints, i.e., when they are viable. Hence it is only when actions or operations fail that one can speak of “contact” with the environment, but not when they succeed" (von Glaserfeld, 1982).

Differentiation within the classroom allows for all students to have access to as much needed resources as possible for them to not only succeed, but feel comfortable, welcome, encouraged, and confident in their ability to try, fail, learn, and have another go. In a sense, we are setting expectations outside the box so that students can grow further than the walls we often put around them!

Behavior Starts with Myself

Firstly it is most-important to model the appropriate behavior myself as the teacher. Previously in school, teachers ruled with an iron fist. I disagree with this, and although an authority needs to be established, I can be done in a way based on leadership and positive encouragement for the students to do well.

Another way to create a positive learning environment that is both safe and secure is to include the students of the class in a discussion on forming the classroom rules. This involves the students in the construction of what is important for them to succeed. Obviously, as the leader I would create basic ground rules for the discussion beforehand that everyone must agree on before it starts. I will also be in charge of alerting students when they are outside the guidelines of the discussed rules during the formation of the classroom rules as a group.

Giving students the power to discuss and formulate their own classroom rules, in series with my own rules as the leader of the classroom, helps them buy-in to and gain a sense of control over the environment and learning. In Prokopich’s presentation, he mentions that we as educators in a differentiated classroom must realize that we can maintain control without always being the center of attention (2010) and it is my duty to allow students freedom to explore learning and have some control over creating their environment to thrive within.

Eliminating the Fear of Failure

Within the classroom rules and expectations, I will make it clear that effort, whether it is followed by success or failure, is the recipe for winning.

We must respect and encourage each other to try. Setting the expectation early on that encourages students' understanding that there will not be repercussions for true effort towards learning will free them of boundaries. They will often learn that it will earn their fellow students’ respect when they are rewarded for their effort.

It is important that together we have fun and staying positive to eliminate the fear of failure.

Another way to ensure social and emotional needs are met are to build relationships personally with the students. It is imperative to take time in speaking with students about themselves personally, not just about their school efforts, so that they do not fear the wrath of the teacher or the unknown of the educational path.

Prokopich discusses in his presentation the importance of social skills in the differentiated classroom when he states that we should not assume students have the skills to work together successfully. We must practice social skills with the class. This is valuable to both myself and the student to ensure that within the classroom and future interactions outside the classroom, students are confident in their communication skills.

Communicating effectively includes active listening. the ability to agree and disagree politely, articulate your thoughts, respect others’ thoughts, and more.

Assignments and Grading

Showing effort is the key to work and assignments. Immersing yourself into the work and putting yourself out there will earn yourself more credit in class than a lack of effort.

Participation is often a grade that is given in full to students who raise their hand or show up on time. These are expected actions of the classroom. Where points will be earned in each assignment and for each student is if they show genuine effort in their work, and even with a poor grade, explain the reasoning behind their work as well as the time and effort they put towards a project, they will be rewarded.

Opportunity to Succeed!

Within the context of the classroom and environment created, students will be afforded more opportunities to succeed by ceasing to limit their chances to try. We will set up an environment that removes the walls of the box so let the students stretch their minds!
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Assessing Student Work

Student work will be graded in a way that is normal to the traditional classroom. Points are allotted to certain areas for each assignment that need to be met, which is often described as Formal grading. Contrastingly, credit will be more freely given where students may not hit the bullseye with regards to exact answers, but where they extended themselves to new levels. Also, where applicable, students should self-grade their effort. This can be accomplished in small groups or on a individual level. Following self-graded assignments, students will meet with me to discuss why they gave themselves the specified grade.

During discussions and groupwork, it will be important for me to stand back and monitor discussion from an outside perspective. If students are on point discussing various perspectives, they will be graded favorably. This is called Informal grading. In an article by SEDL, it states that “Listening to students as they discuss ideas together is a good way to start shifting the balance of responsibility to the learner” (SEDL, 1995). The goal of giving students freedom is to give them responsibility of their own learning.


Prokopich, V. (2010, August 10). Classroom management tips for differentiated instruction 2 [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbUQmuwX8cE

Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (1995). Classroom compass: Constructing knowledge in the classroom. Retrieved from http://www.sedl.org/scimath/compass/v01n03/1.html

Von Glaserfeld, E. (1982). An interpretation of Piaget's constructivism. Revue internationale de philosophie 36(4), 612-635. Retrieved from http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/EvG/papers/077.pdf