Differentiating Classrooms With Parent Involvement

Week 3 Blog for Differentiation Class

Aleta May

Essential question: How do we prepare parents for differentiation in the classroom?

A game to come–still wondering how to create a game for this blog post; I’m thinking maybe a web quest.

After reading Chapter 7 from Tomlinson’s book (2001), parents need to know and understand why their child is taught at a different level of work from their classmates. Teachers communicate this in several different ways. One way is to communicate with parents at a parent night that just as every child did not learn to walk, speak, or ride a bike at the same age, they will not progress at the exact same rate as their peers in reading, writing and math at school. When looking at where students are at the present time, in most cases, they all can speak, for example, now that they are in middle school. Mr. Wade, in a case example, according to Tomlinson, said “He helps the parents realize that school is a progression of life . . . He cannot force them to match the kid at the next table” (2001, p. 41). It is so important that students start from a point that is challenging to them, growing from a point determined from ongoing assessment! It may be necessary to “systematically show parents how a differentiated classroom acknowledges and bulds on children’s strengths, provides opportunities to bolster weaker areas, keeps track of individual growth, and promotes engagement and excitement” (Tomlinson, 2014, P. 167).

I am not completely (only partially) sure how to answer the question of how do we do this when teachers are told they must teach at the students’ grade level. However, I do know, and agree with Tomlinson, that “. . . learning is impaired when students feel overtaxed, afraid, and out of control” (2001, p. 43). Parents need to understand this concept, and we as teachers are obliged to determine ways to teach students at their personal point of challenge (instructional level); without either teaching at their frustration level (where they are likely to act out or withdraw into a corner) or at a level that does not provide enough challenge to students accustomed to hearing repeats of information they have already learned.

The article, Wonderful Wednesdays (2004), not only brings out the importance of involving parents in the education of their child, but described an excellent way to accomplish this. When I return to Oregon two times a year, I have been invited to participate in my grandchildren’s classrooms. Last spring I went to both classrooms (Rheylene was in 2nd grade and Van was in 1st grade at the time). In Rheylene’s class, I walked into the classroom, and the teacher did not even acknowledge that I was there; although I walked right past her desk and spent about 30 minutes in her class. Students were working at their desks independently, and I was unsure if it was okay to sit near Rheylene to encourage her or not—the atmosphere felt tense to me. In Van’s classroom, I was quickly put to work folding and stapling leveled reading booklets. Definitely, I did not feel I had a choice in how I spent my time in class, and would much rather have participated with students learning their vowel team sounds chorally. So this quote resonates with me when the author speaks about parents dropping in on Wonderful Wednesdays, however frequently they wish, and at any time of day on the schedule already sent home ahead of time: “I keep these days structured around workshop-type activities and ask parents to join us as full participants. They’re not there to be helpers or passive observers. . . to see a show or to be the show. . . Rather . . . to experience day-to-day life in our classroom in a safe and comfortable way” (Responsive Classrooms, 2004, p. 1).

Sometimes teachers may believe that parents are “indifferent to educational issues” (Zurcher, 2016, p. 368). And like Tomlinson (2001) states, parents have many reasons for not coming to the school, but rarely is it because they do not care deeply about how their children are doing in school. Along the lines of the Wonderful Wednesdays (2004) article, Melinda Zurcher sees great value in inviting parents to be involved in their child’s education by participating in a more natural way (2016). For example, students in her elementary writer’s workshop class were connected to home writing projects. Parents were also gently instructed in ways they could encourage their child to write with three rules: “(1) Focus on the meaning. (2) Offer help when asked. (3) Extend the learning in one or two ways” (Zurcher, 2016, p. 370). The children had an authentic audience to share writing with at home. Parents understood that their children were developing writers and how important they were in helping in this process.

An idea for involving parents in creating a successful, differentiated learning environment at the high school level is to partner with the school in allowing students to “bring your own device” (BYOD) for the purpose of having access to school internet on their own phones or tablets to help them find resources for assignments at school (Kiger, 2015). In order for there to be by in with, parents need to be involved in policy making. Further, it is vital that parents are continuously kept informed if we are to bridge over to them for involvement in our endeavors to reach each student. Parents are actively sought out for feedback through emails, surveys and school-sponsored websites (Alcena, 2014). This may involve “teaching adults about technology” (Schorr, p. 7).

The overarching theme is that teachers need to engage students to learn at an appropriate level of challenge to each. We need to partner with parents in order for this to happen. In busy lives of parents today, parent-teacher partnerships will need to be developed through multiple avenues and in more inviting, relaxed, and individualized ways.


 Alcena, F. M. (2014). Parental involvement and its impact on student achievement

in florida virtual school. Distance Learning, 11(2), pp. 25-32.

Kiger, D. (2015). Bring your own device: Parental guidance (PG) suggested.

(Association for Educational Communications and Technology).  

                Tech Trends, 59(5), pp. 51-61.

Responsive Classrooms (2004, November). Wonderful Wednesdays. Responsive

            Classroom Information Library. Retrieved from


Schorr, J. A. (illustrator). A parent’s guide to 21st-century learning (2012).

           Edutopia.org. Retrieved from

 http://www.edutopia.org/pdfs/guides/edutopia-parents-guide-21st-century-learning.pdf The George Lucas Educational Foundation.

 Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms,  

            2nd ed., pp.39-44. Association for Surpervision & Curriculum Development

(ASCD), 16-26.

Tomlinson, C. A. (2014). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the

            needs of all learners, 2nd. ed.  Alexandria, VA: Development

Association for Surpervision & Curriculum. (ASCD).

Zurcher, M. A. (2016). Partnering with parents in the writing classroom.

          The Reading Teacher, 69(4).

2 thoughts on “Differentiating Classrooms With Parent Involvement

  1. gkkapatak01

    I like your idea of including parents in DI by BYOD. I know there are ethical problems that come with that; so it’s important to acknowledge them and the best way to do that is to involve the parents.

  2. teresareflects

    I find your description of visiting your grandchildren’s classrooms very interesting and kind of distressing. For a teacher to only see a visitor as a volunteer clerical worker, or worse, to not even acknowledge the visitor, is rude. It also ignores a chance to build a bridge and strengthen the home school connection. When it comes to the classroom environment, we must strive to create a welcoming one for our students’ families as well as for our students.
    Your last line really brings it all together about using multiple avenues of communication.


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