Differentiated Learning and Creativity Intertwined

Differentiated Learning and Creativity Intertwined

Differentiated Learning and Creativity Intertwined

Differentiation propels children’s creativity. Here’s why, and how.

Differentiation is a term used to describe the proactive and fluid process of matching educational expectations to individual students’ learning needs. ~ Being Smart about Gifted Learning, p. 139

The word differentiation carries a lot of baggage these days as parents and teachers wonder how to provide individualized learning while at the same time juggling increasing educational demands and other obligations. Some adults may think differentiation is a potentially work-laden or complicated approach. They’re already feeling stretched as they strive to meet children’s diverse needs and keep pace with their own well-being, intellectual fulfillment, and myriad responsibilities.

However, differentiation need not be daunting. The basic underlying premise is to create an Optimal Match between a learner and their learning, empowering them to engage in meaningful educational experiences. At its core, differentiation is simply about providing a flexible range of options that are well-suited to the individual child. It’s respectful of diversity, it’s student-centered, and it invites choice, creativity, technological initiative, and inquiry. Plus, it works in myriad contexts.


People create their intelligence and develop their abilities across the lifespan, in countless different environments and circumstances. Personal development has to do with genetic predispositions, influences, motivation, planning, reflection, hard work, intellectual stimulation, social interactions, and a whole lot more—all the experiences encountered on life’s journey. This includes connections, communities, cultures, and outlets for creative expression.

Parents and teachers often tend to focus on the “waterfall”—that is, the main flow of a child’s learning processes (for example, math, science, and language programs)—but they must also ensure that creativity is part of that flow. It can be a wellspring for exciting and meaningful learning outcomes. Creativity leads to new perspectives and outlets, helps children cope with challenge and change, and provides channels for joy, comfort, and cognitive advancement.


Creativity is a choice. But it’s a smart choice because it helps interests and strengths become qualities and accomplishments that kids can feel excited about, and share with family, friends, and others.

Here are some ways to differentiate children’s learning opportunities to foster their engagement, accelerate their creativity, and address their ever-changing enthusiasms and abilities. These will vary on a situational and subject-by-subject basis, requiring flexibility, and attunement to a child’s individual and ongoing development.

Strategy 1. Co-create clear expectations and goals. These should be adapted to and aligned with a child’s interests, levels of readiness, and areas of strength and weakness in different domains. Pay heed to what the child already knows and can build upon. Reinforce analytical, divergent, and creative thinking.

Strategy 2. Open avenues of communication. Listen intentionally. Invite curiosity. Answer questions thoughtfully. Welcome new, unconventional, and sophisticated ideas. Encourage reading, writing, and the use of technology. Be available to assist with social-emotional upheavals, and times of uncertainty or transition.

Strategy 3. Encourage networking. Become familiar with support services, draw upon community resources and learning provisions, and seek information from multiple sources. Help children recognize how using different supports can enable them to stretch their learning parameters, and the imagination, too.

Strategy 4. Strengthen kids’ learning spirit. Demonstrate through your own behaviors ways in which you’re openminded, proactive, resilient, nurturing, well-informed, and attentive to diversity. Show how you take sensible risks, enjoy using creativity in different situations, and welcome the challenge of novel or complex experiences.


“Parents who understand the basic principles of differentiation, as well as some of the options available for creating an optimal learner-learning match, are able to support their children’s education.” ~ Being Smart about Gifted Learning, p. 138

Although differentiated learning experiences for any one child will change over time and vary across domains, opportunities abound. Choosing to be creative involves discovering and tapping those opportunities in new and exciting ways.

Encourage children to make the choice to be creative, increasing the breadth and depth of their learning. It can enhance their flow of ideas and pleasure, so they can ride waves that have the potential to enrich, inform, and inspire!

Note: The differentiation strategies described above are adapted from page 143 of Being Smart about Gifted Learning but there are hundreds of additional tips and resources throughout the book.


Dr. Joanne Foster is an award-winning author who writes about child development and gifted education. Her most recent book is Being Smart about Gifted Learning: Empowering Parents and Kids Through Challenge and Change (co-authored with Dona Matthews, 2021). For more information, and for access to many articles and timely resources on children’s well-being, creativity, intelligence, productivity, and learning, go to www.joannefoster.ca.

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