August 31, 2012
With a new approach, differentiated instruction can be easy and allow you to ignite learner thinking in their style.

Personalized Rigor for 21st Century Skills: Ignite learner thinking in their style

No longer does “Differentiated Instruction” need to be a slogan of what schools say they are going to do. With a new approach, differentiated instruction can be easy. It is well documented that once an individual’s learning style is identified, higher levels of task engagement is often the result (Silver, Strong and Perin, 2008). The stand-alone theory of identifying students’ learning styles is not enough, if students are to yield rigorous 21st Century learning outcomes. Differentiating instructional tasks will require learners to apply high levels of rigor in their individual learning style; such differentiation of instructional practice can become a game changer. The ultimate outcomes are the 21st Century skills Tony Wagner (Stanbury, 2008) prescribes for rigorous learning:

  1. Problem-solving and critical thinking;
  2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence;
  3. Agility and adaptability;
  4. Initiative and entrepreneurship;
  5. Effective written and oral communication;
  6. Accessing and analyzing information; and
  7. Curiosity and imagination.

The big question remains “How do we differentiate student tasks in order to maximize engagement?” Educators are at a loss for the best practice differentiated instruction methods in order to engage students in high-levels of rigorous learning. The high levels of rigor require students to analyze, evaluate and synthesis (Bloom,1956) real world problems and also maintain these skills in order to solve future problems that do not yet exist. The answer is simple; focus on the more rigorous and demanding levels of thinking, coupled with the individual preference of learning style. Such an approach, require student learning to be more thoughtful and engaging. With the dual approach of personalized learning style and rigorous learning, the outcome of developing quality 21st Century learning skills becomes a more feasible proposition for students and teachers.

How this approach to differentiated instruction works:

  1. Identify your domain of learning style (row 1).
  2. Identify the levels of rigor associated with your domain of learning style (Columns 2-5).
  3. Learners solve problems using the levels of rigor tasks that resonate with his/her learning style.

Note: This is also a great way for parents to engage their child(ren) with tasks at home! Parents often times say “my kid(s) don’t listen to me.” Parents, simply state the task in a manner that resonates with your child’s learning preference.

Chart: 21st Century Skills = Domains of Learning Styles + Levels of Rigor (thinking skills).
Click on chart for larger image.


Bloom, B.S. (1956) Taxonomy of educational objectives: Handbook I, cognitive domain. New York, NY

Silver, H., Strong, R., Perin, M.(2008) The Strategic Teacher: Selecting the Right Research-Based Strategy for Every Lesson. Merrill Education/ASCD College Textbooks

Stansbury, Meris (2008) Seven skills students desperately need. Retrieved December 28, 2008 from

Guest post by Randall G. Sampson, PhD, a former Technical Assistance Coach with KnowledgeWorks.




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3 thoughts on “Personalized Rigor for 21st Century Skills: Ignite learner thinking in their style

  1. Interesting article. I love your diagram/table. It is a helpful tool. However having been both a gifte education teacher and classroom teacher I would like to see a more concert example, i.e. a lesson using your tool. While I find your table very helpful, many teachers I have worked with would not move forward until they had concert examples and lessons in their hands to use. Do you have sample lessons?

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