The barriers to differentiation

Teachers often spend hours building student-facing resources and organizing their teaching notes for a lesson. And only after they’ve prepared the whole-class essentials can they then focus on other aspects of lesson prep. This conundrum exemplifies Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: for teachers to focus on complex needs, they need to accomplish the basics first.

If we were to take Maslow’s pyramid and create a version for lesson planning, it would look like this:


Stuck at the bottom

Essentially, teachers spend a majority of their lesson prep time building materials that make up the bottom half of the pyramid:

  • Piecing together PowerPoint presentations or flip charts
  • Deciding on student handouts
  • Figuring out the timing and logistics of a lesson

Once teachers complete the lower two sections, they don’t have as much time to complete the upper half. Creating whole-class materials from scratch can be daunting, especially for teachers with less experience.

Rising to the top

When lesson plans include classroom-ready materials, teachers can hone in on differentiating and prepping for small groups. They focus on the top of the hierarchy of needs because their lessons come with a whole-class foundation.

Take, for example, LearnZillion Illustrative Mathematics 6-8 Math. With this curriculum, teachers gain access to presentations, activity prep slides, and prioritized questions that are already built into the lessons.

As a result, they can spend their planning time working out the math of a lesson, reviewing the main teaching moves, and anticipating how to adjust that lesson to differentiate for their students. LearnZillion’s version of IM helps teachers prioritize complex classroom needs.


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Emily Priborkin is the Marketing Communications Associate at LearnZillion. A musical theatre nerd at heart, she'll gladly recite and perform all of the music from Les Misérables on command.

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