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Meeting Individual Student Needs in the Elementary Classroom. Sandra Bottge Issues in Education. A Class of Individuals. Each year teachers welcome new students into their classrooms. Students come with a variety of individual needs and backgrounds including but not limited to:

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a class of individuals

A Class of Individuals

Each year teachers welcome new students into their classrooms. Students come with a variety of individual needs and backgrounds including but not limited to:

Academic strengths and weaknesses

Learning styles and preferences

Family backgrounds and issues

Cultural and language

Learning differences or disabilities


Social and emotional levels

the teacher s job

The Teacher’s Job

The teacher’s job is to take this newly established classroom of individuals and create learning goals to meet the needs of each student to enable to student to flourish in the classroom. The teacher must also create an environment where these individuals can work together as a unified group.

A third grade teacher is getting ready for a new school year. She will have to work hard to accomplish the challenging tasks of meeting individual student needs and unifying her class. She has to take a close look at each student to understand his or her needs and see how the group can work together.

gathering information

Gathering Information

The teacher will need to gather as much information as she can about each student. At the end of the students’ 2nd grade year, the teacher set up a meeting with the 2nd grade teachers to learn about each students’ academic strengths and weaknesses, learning styles, family issues, etc.

The teacher sent a letter to her students over the summer to introduce herself and welcome them to her classroom. She included a student questionnaire to gather more information about each student’s likes and dislikes, family, friends, pets, etc. She also included a parent questionnaire to learn the parents’ perspective on how she can meet each student’s needs in 3rd grade.

One of the first activities in 3rd grade is an “All About Me” project where students share information with their classmates on their families, pets, hobbies, favorite vacation spot and anything else they want to share.


Pam is working above grade level in reading but below grade level in math. She loves animals and does well in science. She has many friends and is very social. Pam quickly gets upset and emotional when problems with friendships arise. Pam’s grandfather has cancer and is not expected to live through the school year.


Tania came to the United States 6 months ago from Peru. She lives with her mother, brother and grandparents who do not speak English. Tania’s English is very limited. She struggles with reading and all subject areas. Tania joined the school in the second semester of 2nd grade. She is very shy and has difficulty making friends and communicating with her classmates.


Mark is gifted in academics and music. He is performing above a 5th grade level in reading and math. Mark always wants to be first and always wants the teacher to call on him. Mark is a perfectionist and gets angry with himself and his classmates when mistakes are made. Mark’s parents expect him to get all A’s.


Joe loves sports. He plays baseball and soccer. Joe has been diagnosed with ADHD. His second grade teacher feels he would benefit from medication but Joe’s parents are not in favor of medication. Joe has a learning disability and is reading on a 1st grade level. His math skills are on a 2nd grade level. Joe’s parents both work full-time and find it difficult to find time to help him with his homework. Joe gets along well with his classmates but is beginning to feel self conscious about his academic abilities.

putting it all together
Putting It All Together

There are a variety of needs even among 4 students. Multiply this times 5 to see the needs in a typical class of 20 students.

differentiating instruction

Differentiating Instruction

The teacher will take the information she gathered and review her 3rd grade curriculum. She will consider how to differentiate her units for students working above and below grade level.

Carol Ann Tomlinson, differentiation expert, defines differentiated instruction as, “tailoring instruction to meet individual needs. Whether teachers differentiate content, process, products, or the learning environment, the use of ongoing assessment and flexible grouping makes this a successful approach to instruction.”

differentiating content

Differentiating Content

Content is what the student needs to learn. Teachers can differentiate or adjust the content goals for individual students. Teachers can also adjust the way the content is presented.


Students choose books on an appropriate reading level (often with the guidance of the teacher)

Spelling and vocabulary lists are adjusted according to readiness

Teachers present information in a variety of ways to match learning styles (visual, auditory, kinesthetic)

Teachers work with small groups of students for more personalized instruction and re-teaching or expanding when necessary

Students work in small groups based on homogeneous or heterogeneous grouping

differentiating process

Differentiating Process

When teachers differentiate the process, they create a variety of activities to engage students in learning.


Teachers use tiered instruction where all students focus on the same enduring understanding; however, teachers adjust the amount of challenge and support they offer students

Teachers utilize learning centers to allow students to explore topics and activities

Teachers allow students to create and explore using technology

Teachers create individual or small group contracts

Students have the option of using hands-on tools and manipulatives

Teachers adjust the amount of time students have to work in order to provide time for struggling learners to understand and work through a concept and sufficient time for advanced students to delve deeply into a concept

differentiating products

Differentiating Products

Differentiating products means adjusting the culminating, extension and application activities in which students demonstrate what they learned.


Allow students to choose how to demonstrate what they learned (design a poster, write a play, create a shadow box)

Allow students the choice of working by themselves or in small groups

Assess students using rubrics that clearly define expectations and assess learning

differentiating the learning environment

Differentiating The Learning Environment

Differentiating the learning environment means altering the way the classroom works and feels.


Create an environment conducive for learning including places for quiet work and student collaboration

Arrangeand decorate the classroom to create a comfortable and inviting atmosphere

Post essential questions

Establish clear guidelines and expectations for classroom work

Develop routines that allow students to seek help from the teacher or others, sit or stand and work at their desk, a table or the carpet

investing in students

Investing in Students

Throughout the year teachers should invest in their students to continue to get to know them and reassess their needs.

Teachers should pray with and for their students each day. Students should have opportunities to share prayer requests and pray for each other to build community.

The teacher may want to eat lunch with each student once a month. Students enjoy talking with their teacher and having her undivided attention.

Students should keep an ongoing journal to write about their personal lives, school, friends and anything else they want to write about. The teacher should regularly respond to their journal entries to encourage and support students.



Teachers need to assess students and learning regularly using formative and summative assessment.

Formative assessment allows teachers to gather feedback to guide or adapt learning plans. Examples of formative assessment are: teacher observation, student self assessment, exit tickets, feedback forms, homework, oral presentations and quizzes (if given before the end of a unit and teachers use the information to guide their planning). Formative assessment helps formulate plans. It isAssessment ForLearning.

Summative assessment allows a teacher to measure what a student has learned at the end of an instructional unit. Examples include tests, quizzes, benchmark assessments, most standardized testing. Summative assessment summarizes what students have learned. It is Assessment Of Learning.

utilizing all resources
Utilizing All Resources

Teachers must remember that they are not working alone to meet the needs of their students. They have a variety of resources that should be utilized including:

  • LD staff
  • G&T staff
  • Instructional aides
  • Parents
  • Specials teachers
  • Experienced colleagues
  • Books, websites, professional development


Teaching is an awesome responsibility. It’s challenging for teachers to take a new group of individuals each year and create plans to meet their needs and form a unified group. Teachers should work to:

Get to know their students

Plan for differentiated instruction

Invest in their students

Assess learning

Utilize all resources




Tomlinson, C. (2012). What Is Differentiated Instruction? Reading Rockets. Retrieved July 11, 2012, from

Winebrenner, S. (2001). Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing Inc.