Pros and Cons of Differentiated Teaching

Using Multiple Teaching Styles to Meet the Needs of Diverse Students

Differentiation is the educational practice of modifying or adapting instruction, school materials, subject content, class projects, and assessment methods to better meet the needs of diverse learners.

In a differentiated classroom, teachers recognize that all students are different and require varied teaching methods to be successful. These include students with ​learning disabilities who might otherwise fall behind in a traditional classroom setting.

The Traditional Teaching Approach

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Traditional teaching methods were based on a model in which the teacher delivers instruction, typically through lecture, and then models the skill on a blackboard or overhead projector. When the teacher is finished, he or she will give the student practice work, usually from standardized textbooks or handouts.

The teacher would then proceed to review the students' work and evaluate his or her knowledge with a pencil and paper test. Afterward, the teacher would provide feedback, usually in the form of a grade.

While generations of Americans have received instruction in a traditional way, modern educators recognize that the style fails to meet the needs of diverse learners, including those with learning disabilities such as ​dyslexia, dyscalculia,​ and auditory processing disorder (APD).

Pros and Cons of Traditional Teaching

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The traditional method of teaching isn't entirely without value. It can be helpful to evaluate the pros and cons of the time-worn practice.

  • School evaluation by school boards and departments of education are more easily performed

  • Subjects and skills are taught in a specific, cohesive order.

  • Teacher assessments are more straightforward

  • Teaching is uniform and consistent

  • Based on a false assumption that children are all on a level playing field and that some are "meant" to fail.

  • Curriculum and teacher role are inflexible

  • Instruction focuses on memorization rather than higher-level thinking skills, placing students who struggle with memorization at a disadvantage

  • Systems are less able to keep up with student needs

  • The needs of students with diverse backgrounds and disabilities are rarely met

The Differentiated Teaching Approach

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From the perspective of the individual student, few can argue that differentiated teaching doesn't have distinct advantages over traditional teaching.

The aim of differentiation is to employ a variety of teaching styles to ensure that students can approach learning in different ways but with the same or similar outcomes.

Differentiation is meant to stimulate creativity by helping students make stronger connections, understand relationships, and grasp concepts in a more intuitive way.

Differentiated instruction can be used in any number of subject areas. It may involve:

  • Providing auditory learners with audiobooks
  • Providing kinesthetic learners interactive assignment online
  • Providing tactile learners with multi-sensory teaching materials
  • Providing textbooks for visual and word learners

Similarly, class assignments would be based on how the individual student approaches learning. Some might complete an assignment on paper or in pictures, while others may choose to give an oral report or create a three-dimensional diorama.

Differentiation can also alter how the classroom itself is organized. Students may be broken up into groups based on their approach to learning, or they may be provided with quiet spaces to study alone if they choose.

Pros and Cons of Differentiated Teaching

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While support for differentiated teaching is growing, it is not without its shortcomings and benefits.


  • Children take on more of the responsibility for learning

  • Differentiation effective for both high-ability students and those with a disability

  • Engagement in learning tends to be stronger because it addresses the children as equal individuals

  • May require more resources for a school or school district to implement

  • Many schools lack the ​professional development resources to properly train faculty

  • Requires much more lesson-planning time for teachers

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Smale-Jacobse AE, Meijer A, Helms-Lorenz M, Maulana R. Differentiated Instruction in Secondary Education: A Systematic Review of Research Evidence. Front Psychol. 2019;10:2366. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02366

  2. Bishara S, Wubbena Z. Active and traditional teaching, self-image, and motivation in learning math among pupils with learning disabilities. Cogent Educ. 2019;5(1). doi:10.1080/2331186X.2018.1436123

  3. van Geel M, Keuning T, Frèrejean J, Dolmans D, van Merriënboer J, Visscher AJ.  Capturing the complexity of differentiated instruction. J Sch Eff Sch Improv. 2019;30(1):51-67. doi:10.1080/09243453.2018.1539013

By Ann Logsdon
Ann Logsdon is a school psychologist specializing in helping parents and teachers support students with a range of educational and developmental disabilities.