Differentiated Instruction and The Whole Child

If you know me, you know I am the biggest advocate for Differentiated Instruction.  I am also a huge advocate for The Whole Child.  Recently, The Whole Child Blog posted on DI. It was like educational Christmas for me! 🙂  If you have a chance, it is worth your time to explore this site.

They mention how and why it is important to differentiate, and how it can be done through content, process, product, and learning environment.  I think the ones we are most familiar seeing in classrooms are content and product.  

For example: We are comfortable pre-assessing to determine where a child is and meeting them where they are to challenge them. (Content)  We are comfortable giving choice and allowing students to show their learning in multiple ways. (Product) 

That got me really evaluating, are we this comfortable in the Process in which we are presenting the information?  Are we this comfortable in the area of Learning Environment? I think this is where it gets a little muddy.  When we think about the definition of Process, ASCD defines it:

Process. Process is how the learner comes to make sense of, understand, and “own” the key facts, concepts, generalizations, and skills of the subject.  A teacher can differentiate an activity or process by, for example, providing varied options at differing levels of difficulty or based on differing student interests.

Differing student interests – this one stuck with me.  Unless you are completely new to the world of education or have been in hiding, you have heard about Genius Hour and Passion Projects! You have probably done these in your classroom to some degree.  So many times we think this concept is taught in isolation from our core subjects.  We allow one hour to let our kids create in school.  Imagine if this is the only “hour” they feel in charge of their learning and passionate about what they are learning.   

What if we looked at integrating this concept of Genius Hour/Passion Project into our everyday teaching?   Are you crazy…you might be thinking, but think about it.   If WE are interested in what we are learning, we will do anything!  Right?  Our students will rise to meet the expectations we have for them.  I truly believe that we can collaborate with other creative teachers and find ways to teach the content we are required to cover in a way our students will feel in charge of their learning and passionate about it!  We want them leaving us each day inspired to do more and craving to come back for more!  This will happen when we differentiate around the needs of the whole child.



Differentiating the Learning Environment is one that I never really listed with differentiation, but was always something I considered. So much of this goes hand in hand with knowing your students. Knowing their interests, their goals, and knowing who they are as individuals. When we stop and really consider the whole child, we will see it is very clear what learning environment they need in order to thrive.  And sometimes… just asking the student will give you insight you might never have imagined!  ðŸ™‚

When I think about my own classroom, sure…I had the varied seating, lighting, and choices to work at the solo desk or group tables.  The students were always allowed to choose where they sat depending on their need for that day.  I didn’t always do this.  I first started it when I asked myself, “What would I want if I was my student?” I would want to have choice.  



Yes, it is hard to give up the control.  We have a list of excuses as why it wouldn’t work for us and it can work for someone else.  I’m not even saying it was the best thing for each class I had each year.  This is where we come full circle to asking ourselves, “What is Best for THIS learner at THIS time?”  

I am writing this to share my huge passion for The Whole Child and Differentiated Instruction, not to say this one way is the best way. I hope that I will always think about The Whole Child and Differentiate the Learning Environment just as much as I do Content, Process, and Product.  

I will leave adding this great list from ASCD of how to differentiate in response to the learner profile.  Do you….

  • Allow students to choose to work alone or with a friend?
  • Balance perspectives and acknowledge the ones less popular?
  • Build a strong class community?
  • Provide opportunities for authentic learning around talents and interests?
  • Focus on teaching Character Education?
  • Present information through kinesthetic, auditory & visual modes?







Author: Bridget Visser

I am a passionate educator advocating for ALL Children! Love all things around Student Voice, Literacy, Technology, Innovation, Student Design, and Empowering Others in positive ways! I am a learner, energized by connecting with other educators sharing their learning!

One thought on “Differentiated Instruction and The Whole Child”

  1. I believe the environment is completely underrated. As we are holding student monitoring meetings this week it was shared that a student who had been receiving instruction in a small group setting was feeling "picked out" and really wanted to stay with his core teacher and peers. Finding he balance between what a student needs and what a student wants is difficult at times, but we must remember that students must feel safe and free from threat in their environment long before we can ask them to learn. Thanks for the post and pushing the reflection.

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