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A Teacher's Guide to Successful Classroom Management and Differentiated Instruction

reviewed by Soonhye Park & Jinhong Jung - June 11, 2015

coverTitle: A Teacher's Guide to Successful Classroom Management and Differentiated Instruction
Author(s): Billie F. Birnie
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham
ISBN: 1475810083, Pages: 50, Year: 2014
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A Teacher's Guide to Successful Classroom Management and Differentiated Instruction is the first in the series, Wrinkles in Teaching: A Series of Guidebooks for Teachers. As the word wrinkle implies, the series aims to provide useful tips for teachers to prevent unnecessary trial and error and to facilitate student learning. As a starter of the series, this book addresses two key components critical to creating and maintaining effective learning environments for all students: classroom management and differentiated instruction.

At first glance, one might not be certain how the two topics constituting this book are related to each other. As one reads the book, the relationship appears much closer than expected. The author, Billie Birnie, uses a metaphor of a sandwich to explain the relationship between classroom management and differentiated instruction. The author argues that “the better the instruction, the less need there is for managing student attitudes and behavior” (p. 1) because students are enthusiastically engaged in learning.

What makes instruction engaging and effective is differentiating instruction to accommodate a variety of interests, needs, abilities, and learning styles of individual students. In this regard, classroom management is like the bread of a sandwich, instruction is like the filling, and differentiated instruction is like a special combination of the filling individualized for each person. Both bread and filling need to work together in a harmonized way to make a sandwich most satisfactory to the person. This metaphor highlights that classroom management is not merely responding to student misbehaviors, but a crucial part of careful instructional plans and decisions to create meaningful and positive learning experiences for every student. In other words, classroom management should be conceived as thoughtful planning and decision making rather than employing a bag of tricks and tactics. The major focus of classroom management needs to be then placed on developing and implementing a systematic plan to encourage acceptable and desirable behaviors and attitudes rather than reacting to disruptive behaviors once they have occurred. The best teacher leaves nothing to chance (p. 3).

The first section of the book introduces four steps for teachers to manage a classroom environment that best supports student learning: a) know what you want and what you don’t want; b) show and tell your students what you want and what you don’t want; c) when you get what you want, praise it generously and specifically; and d) when you get something else, act quickly and appropriately. Those sequential yet interdependent four steps are formulated through the author’s extensive teaching experiences and observations of other teachers. Each step is clearly explained using real stories of teachers and students in both elementary and secondary classrooms to help understand what the step looks like in diverse classroom situations.

Also, several exercises are presented for guiding teachers to successful application of each step. Throughout the first section, the author explicitly voices two critical messages for teachers who want to be successful with classroom management. First, any effective classroom management requires a positive teacher-student partnership grounded in mutual trust with a shared goal of successful student learning. This point becomes more insightful, when classroom management is defined from a holistic perspective, as Evertson and Harris (2000) describe, it “encompasses all that teachers do to encourage learning in their classrooms, including creating an environment that supports instruction to promote and maintain student learning and engagement” (p. 61).

This holistic view requires an important shift in the relationship between teacher and students. The shift is from management for student obedience, where the teacher tells students what to do and asks for their obedience, to management for student responsibility, where the teacher facilitates the development of student self-responsibility and self-regulation for their actions (Chiappetta & Koballa, 2006). Such student responsibility and self-control can be facilitated only in a learning environment where the teacher and students have established relationships grounded in trust, respect, and care. Second, the author asserts that being consistent in and taking responsibility for managing classrooms are essential for teachers to cultivate a supportive learning environment. Both consistency and responsibility are central to building caring and trusting teacher-student relationships that research shows are a significant contributing factor to student behavior and academic achievement (Good & Brophy, 2000).

The second section describes what differentiated instruction is and how to do it in elementary and secondary classrooms. Desirable student behaviors are often drawn from teacher’s instructional practices that enhance student motivation and engagement. At the heart of those practices is differentiated instruction that accommodates varied students’ learning needs and interests with high expectations for all students. The author explicitly states that differentiated curriculum is the only way teachers can help the students maximize their academic growth (p. 20). In explaining what differentiated instruction is, the author first provides a checklist that not only helps teachers to self-evaluate to what extent they already differentiate their instruction, but also helps them develop some sense of what counts as differentiated instruction. Then, real classroom examples of different degrees of differentiation are given to clarify what it is and what it looks like in practice. With respect to how to implement it, the author emphasizes that differentiated instruction is not a "one size fits all" approach because it depends on the needs of students in a particular classroom. In this sense, instead of providing recipes of the approach to be followed, she offers basic guidelines with which teachers can apply the approach at each stage of a teaching cycle, which involves assessment of individual needs and modification of instruction as an iterative process.

In sum, this book nicely captures the essence of classroom management and differentiated instruction in a concise yet insightful way that would not have been achieved without the author’s extensive teaching experience and critical reflection. Additional resources at the end of each section are useful for those who want to learn more about the topics. While each of the two topics is discussed in detail in separate sections, their reciprocal relationship—that is an underlying principle of the book—is consistently emphasized where appropriate. A well-managed classroom is necessary for differentiated instruction—and differentiated instruction contributes to good student behaviors.


Chiappetta, E. L. & Koballa, T. R. (2006). Science instruction in the middle and secondary schools (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

Evertson, C. M., & Harris, A. H. (2000). Support for managing learning-centered classrooms: The classroom organization and management program. In H. J. Freiberg (Ed.), Beyond behaviorism: Changing the classroom management paradigm (pp. 598–74). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Good, T., & Brophy, J. (2000). Looking into classrooms (8th ed.). New York, NY: Longman.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: June 11, 2015
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17991, Date Accessed: 5/27/2022 10:59:27 AM

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About the Author
  • Soonhye Park
    University of Iowa
    E-mail Author
    SOONHYE PARK is Associate Professor and Program Coordinator of Science Education at the Department of Teaching & Learning at the College of Education at the University of Iowa. Her research interests include teacher Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK), teacher professional identity, and professional development. She has published a number of articles and book chapters on teacher knowledge and teacher education in prestigious journals and publishers including Teaching and Teacher Education, Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Research in Science Education, International Journal of Science Education, and Routledge Press. The high quality of her research has been recognized through several awards including PCK Summit Invitee, 2012; National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) Outstanding Paper Award, 2014; and the University of Georgia David P. Butts Award, 2015.
  • Jinhong Jung
    North Carolina Central University
    E-mail Author
    JINHONG JUNG is an associate professor in the Department of Physical Education and Recreation at North Carolina Central University. Prior to pursuing a career in higher education, Dr. Jung taught physical education over 10 years at public schools where he implemented innovative instructional approaches in his physical education classes. Dr. Jung has published a number of peer reviewed articles, one co-authored book, one book chapter, and presented at state, national, and international conferences. Dr. Jung has incorporated various management strategies including the teaching personal and social responsibility model into his Physical Education Methods class to help pre-service PE teachers better understand multiple ways of managing students in the context of elementary and secondary physical education. Dr. Jung earned his Ph.D. in sport pedagogy at the University of Georgia.
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