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Individualized Instruction


Aja McKee and Audri Sandoval Gomez, featuring general educator Marlene Beisel

This module aligns with the following DSE tenets:

  • promotes social justice, equitable and inclusive educational opportunities, and full and meaningful access to all aspects of society for people labeled with disability/disabled people

  • assumes competence and reject deficit models of disability

When educators learn to teach, both in special and general education, they are taught that all students learn differently. Credential programs teach educators that students in their classroom may each learn in a unique way. As teachers, it is important to identify the needs of your students, and teach to their strengths. Educators are taught to use multi-modality teaching strategies and differentiate instruction in an effort to meet everyone’s needs and provide a successful learning environment. 

In both special and general education classrooms, students with disabilities have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). An IEP is how the education system determines what the student needs, how the needs will be addressed (through IEP goals), and how the team will work together to achieve these goals. In a way, this IEP is a plan for individualized instruction. It provides the needs of the students, the way in which these needs will be met, any accommodations they may need, as well as how or if the curriculum will be modified. So the question is asked; is providing individualized instruction something unique and specific to special educators? Does the need for individualized instruction warrant placement in a segregated classroom, or can it be provided by any educator in any setting? Is individualized instruction really something special, or is it really just good teaching?

Essential Questions

  1. What is individualized instruction?

  2. Is individualized instruction something any educator can provide?

  3. Do educational systems use individualized instruction as a way of preventing students with disabilities from being part of the general education classroom?



  • Discern the idea of individualized instruction and its implications in the field of education.

  • Examine who can provide individualized instruction. 

  • Analyze whether the practice of individualized instruction is prohibiting inclusion of students with disabilities.


We asked Marlene B. to weigh in on her thoughts related to individualized instruction. 












Marlene B., General Educator
15 years teaching 
Southern California School District

The following is a conversation with Marlene regarding individualized instruction. 

"I do not believe that individualized instruction is really talked about in general education credential classes. We often talk about modifications that can be adapted to lessons for different ranges of students, but not specific individualized instruction.

I see individualized instruction as basically instruction for the individual. These are students that are typically years below or above the normal range of abilities within the classroom/grade level as a whole. These are students who can’t even begin to grasp the concept of a lesson, even with modifications, because they do not have the foundational knowledge and skills to do so. I feel confident in providing individualized instruction, but know that I have to be creative. With a classroom on average of 32-35 students, it would be impossible to give the child that needs individualized instruction the skills at his or her level throughout the day. 

I am finding that technology has really helped me to address these individuals more. With the implementation of personal iPads and personalized apps to choose from, this helps a great deal. For example in a 3rd grade classroom with a range of reading levels from 2nd to 5th grade, I can have students that might be still working on phonics and blending at a kinder level doing activities and interactive tutorials at their level. 

Whether it be building the basic foundational skills in reading, math, science, or just a need for more repetition than the other students, technology allows the students to work on these skills without being singled out from the others. I feel as though it is a meaningful and productive use of their time when I can’t be with them one on one.

I do not believe that a child with a disability takes any more time or is more difficult than any other child. The time is still the same that the teacher is devoting to that specific student in order to hopefully move them along to the next level in the skill being taught.

I'm finding that individualized instruction is greatly needed for those students who have already been retained early on and already have been tested and do not qualify for special services. These are the students that by the 3rd and 4th grades can be 2 or 3 years behind grade level. Due to the fact that they didn’t qualify for special services they do not get pulled out for extra help, like many of their peers. They have usually already been retained in 1st or 2nd grade which really eliminates the chance for retention again. These are the students that really will slip through the cracks if they are not provided with individualized instruction. Everything being taught in the classroom seems foreign to them because they still need the basic foundational skills for the subject."

Discounting the Individual Instruction Myth
What we can learn from this conversation with Marlene

  • While not trained in credential programs to provide individualized instruction, many teachers often learn how. 

  • Credential programs provide training in modifying and adapting work for students who learn differently, so the question should be posed; how is this different from individualized instruction? 

  • Though not specifically trained in individualized instruction, this teacher feels confident she is providing the correct instruction to meet each student’s unique needs. When educators are trained to teach, they are trained to teach individual students, small and large groups of students. 

  • Technology may provide educators yet another way to meet each students' needs. 

  • Many students differ in their range of abilities. 

  • Working with a student with a disability does not take any more time than working with another student to move him or her to the next level or skill.

  • Individualized instruction is not just for students with disabilities, and should not be used to keep students from being included with their same age peers. 


Individualized Instruction Not originally for Special Education
By examining the history of education the development and presentation of instruction can be seen as it changed and grew throughout the last few centuries. Molenda (2012) stated, 
The 20th century brought mass education, a more industrial mode of schooling in which standardized whole-group instruction predominated. The tradeoff for reaching masses was a loss in personalization and reduced effectiveness for many. There were some notable efforts to breakaway from the group mode (p. 1).
The original mode of instruction started as one to one tutoring, which then evolved into education for the masses. The pendulum began to swing and educators strived to find effective ways to meet each students’ individual needs. The idea of Individualized Instruction was born (Molenda, 2012). 


Individualized Instruction: We Need That Right?
When the field examines special education practices, it is equally important to speak to individualized instruction and the implications it holds. Brantlinger (2005) examined the basis of special education which the field refers to as individualized instruction. One of the main components of special education is being able to provide students who are determined to be below age level with one to one instruction, also known as individualized instruction.

While it sounds as though the special educators are able to work one on one with students in their class often, Brantlinger (2005) pointed out that the average teacher in special education, works less than five hours per week in a one to one setting with students. Oftentimes, the field places more staff in special education rooms, but the work may not be truly individualized.

Modifications may be made to lessons and work, but as Brantlinger (2005) pointed out “one on one instruction, then, is impossible and “individualized instruction” amounts to differentiated but nevertheless indirect teaching through worksheet packets or personally assigned workbooks and texts (e. g., independent seat work).” (p. 127).

Brantlinger attributes her statements to over 20 years as a field work supervisor who has spent thousands of hours in special education classrooms. This is another example of children with disabilities are thought to need a specific service or strategy that is not what it is believed to actually be. Educators must once again ask themselves if students with disabilities are really better off in segregated special education classrooms.

Can only Special Educators provide Individualized Instruction?
Is it the way the education system disseminates the message that leads teachers to believe some can provide this while others cannot? Assuming all educators realize the importance of individualized instruction, could this not be taught to general educators? These are questions we must ask ourselves. 

Kosko & Wilkins (2009) posited that it may be general education teachers' self-efficacy which will shape their ability to provide strategies such as Individualized Instruction, or work within a student’s IEP. In fact, educators who have nominal professional development in teaching students with disabilities have decreased positive attitudes regarding inclusion, than those with extensive training in this area (Avramidis & Kalyva, 2007). 

Ready to practice what you’ve learned? Of course you are! Don’t worry, you will not be graded!

Question: How do educators often define Individualized Instruction?

Answer: One to one instruction with individualized work to meet that particular student’s needs.

Question: What is often seen when it comes to individualized instruction in special education classes?

Answer: More staff and work that is often modified or adapted for the student’s needs, but not necessarily individualized.

Question: Where can true individualized instruction be executed? Who can provide individualized instruction?

Answer: Anywhere! Anyone trained to do so!

Question: Was individualized instruction developed specifically for special education?

Answer: No. Individualized instruction has been around since the beginning of education. Some may say it was the beginning of education.

Question: Should the ability to provide individualized instruction be a reason for a student with a disability to stay in a segregated classroom?

Answer: No!

Question: Who can benefit from Individualized Instruction?

Answer: Anyone that one to one instruction works well for as a learning strategy!


  • Avramidis, E., and E. Kalyva (2007). The influence of teaching experience and professional development on Greek teachers’ attitudes towards inclusion. European Journal of Special Needs Education 22: 367–89.

  • Brantlinger, E. (2005). Slippery shibboleths: The shady side of truisms in special education. In S. L. Gabel (Ed.), Disability studies in education: Readings in theory and method (pp. 125-138). New York, United States of America: Peter Lang.

  • Kosko, K. W., & Wilkins, J. L. (2009, Fall). General educators’ in-service-training and their self-perceived ability to adapt instruction for students with IEPs. The Professional Educator, 33 (2). 

  • Molenda, M. (2012, November/December). Individualized instruction: A recurrent theme. TechTrends, 56(6), 12-14. 

Marlene B.jpeg
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