Teachers' Beliefs & Differentiated Instruction

Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Everyone has beliefs about how the world works. But how do these belief systems impact the way teachers teach? In this lesson, we'll examine the impact that teacher mindset has on whether and how they differentiate instruction.


Xi is a teacher. She wants to help all of her students, but some just don't seem to get it. One of her colleagues has suggested that Xi try differentiating her lessons, but Xi isn't sure what that means.

Differentiation involves the way that teachers respond to the needs of all students. Generally, this is thought of as being about providing multiple access points, or ways of offering information, so that students with differing needs can learn and grow. It can also be thought of as meeting students where they are, no matter what their level is.

Differentiation can be influenced by teacher's attitudes and assumptions. To help Xi understand how her beliefs might guide her differentiated instruction, let's first look at what belief systems are and then at how they might influence differentiation.

Belief Systems

Before Xi can differentiate her lessons, she needs to understand how her beliefs might be preventing her from doing that already. Specifically, she needs to pay attention to her existing belief systems.

A belief system is a set of attitudes or views that are related to each other. These are also sometimes called mindsets. There are many different types of belief systems. One of the more famous ones comes from psychologist Carol Dweck. Dweck identified two major mindsets about intelligence. One mindset sees intelligence as a fixed entity, something you have or don't. The other views intelligence as being mutable, something people can incrementally grow through hard work.

These mindsets, or belief systems, involve several different beliefs that are interrelated. For example, students with a fixed mindset tend to believe that people are smart or not. They believe that failure proves that a person is not smart. Notice how these two opinions are linked to one another; that's what makes up a belief system. In contrast, students with a growth mindset believe that intelligence is something that can be cultivated and that failure is an opportunity for growth.

Mindsets can influence behaviors. As we saw, a student with a fixed mindset is likely to believe that failure proves that a person is not smart. Because of this, that student is likely to avoid challenges and situations that might cause him to fail. He will take the easiest route and play it safe. He'll also focus on the results of an academic endeavor, such as a grade or reward.

In contrast, a student who believes that failure is an opportunity for growth will likely to seek challenges and focus on the process of an academic endeavor instead of the grade. In other words, a student's belief system (intelligence is fixed or not, failure should be avoided or approached) leads to behaviors (seeking the easy route or seeking challenges).

Teacher Beliefs & Differentiation

Xi understands how students' mindsets about intelligence can impact how they behave in school. After all, she sees students like this all the time. But what does Xi's belief systems have to do with differentiation?

Teachers' belief systems can impact whether and how they differentiate learning. Imagine that Xi had a fixed mindset. She would believe that students are either smart or not. Now imagine that one of Xi's students is not understanding the material as Xi presents it. In that case, Xi is likely to think, 'Oh, that kid's just not smart.' She's less likely to differentiate because if a student doesn't get it right away, it's a sign that they won't ever get it. To a teacher like that, differentiation doesn't make sense.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account