What’s Cooking? Differentiation, That’s What!


At a differentiated dinner party, the host plans a menu that has something for everyone to eat. (Click the image for a better view!)

I recently had a differentiated dinner party for family and friends.

In attendance were a diabetic (no white flour, potatoes, or sugar), a low-salt dieter (nothing canned or with added salt), a pregnant woman who can’t eat acidic foods (no citrus or tomatoes) , a dialysis patient on a restricted diet (no nuts), and a nursing mother (regular soda, only). Then there was the 9 months pregnant expectant mommy who has been allergic to kiwi as long as I’ve known her.

Everyone else was “normal,” although maybe only in the loosest sense of the word. After all, this is my family I’m talking about.

You might look at my roster of attendees and all their …uniqueness… and assume that I just like to give myself a challenge. Not quite. These people are my family, and when they eat, they bring their needs to the table. I couldn’t turn them away, so I had to adapt my menu for them. Otherwise, a bunch of people I care about would have walked away from dinner feeling hungry and frustrated. Chances are, too, that when I invited them back, they’d find some reason not to eat. I can’t think of a greater insult to me!

For this differentiated dinner party, I knew I would be cooking, and I knew I wanted everyone to enjoy themselves. It was obvious, though, that one dish would not fit all.

Using what I knew about my guests, I planned a menu that had something for everyone.

I made some foods without salt. I made some without sugar. Some folks picked around certain ingredients. Some went out on a limb for me and ate a small amount of something they normally wouldn’t. Some people had nothing to worry about, as I simply refrained from making anything that would affect them.

In the end, the objectives were met: everyone ate and everyone had a wonderful time.

Can you see where I’m going with this?

Think of your students as guests at a differentiated dinner party. You wouldn’t encourage your guests to eat something that would make them sick or negatively affect them, and if you’re a good host, you would be sure to have something for everyone.

Shouldn’t we do the same for our students?

The dish you serve your students, expecting them all to eat it, may be something some students can’t eat. Is it fair for those students to expect to be fed and then leave your class hungry? Would those students want to come back to you the next time they were hungry for knowledge, knowing that you haven’t previously taken the time to plan a menu that accounts for their needs?

Would you be able to blame them?

We know who learns in what ways in our classrooms, and who needs to learn what. We need to cook up lessons that everyone can eat!

Buon appetit!

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2 responses to “What’s Cooking? Differentiation, That’s What!

  1. Well, that’s (part of) what makes it a job. What you present as an occasional challenge with six differentiated individuals, plus however many eat-anythings were in attendance, teachers experience daily with 150-180 students whose individualities may not be apparent or even known.

  2. Wonderful analogy! You hit the nail right on the head. This is what actually separates the good teachers from the bad; and, it all boils down to one word ~ whether cooking or teaching ~~ CARING!

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