Adjusting Instruction to Respond to Students’ Diverse Learning Needs and Participation Styles

Mary Cerutti and her Quiet Teaching group working on their prototype at the Design Thinking session on Saturday of the retreat.

Written by Mary Cerutti, Adjunct Faculty, ESL

The presentations and discussions on “Teaching Vulnerable Students in the 21st Century” at the faculty retreat provided an opportunity for me to adapt my lessons to accommodate the needs of students whose needs are not always readily apparent. I was particularly intrigued by the dialogue about providing an instructional environment that would serve both introverted and extroverted students; I think this is something that many faculty members don’t consider when thinking about instructional design and class participation. Two of the Academic ESL classes I am teaching, Academic Communication and Writing Essays, have very quiet students and the weekend gave me some intentional ways to adapt my lessons to incorporate “think time” so that students have adequate time and space to process and reflect on course content. I have included a list of some of the changes I made immediately following the retreat:

  • Before recording students in the language lab, I usually allowed students to practice for several minutes. Now I’ve incorporated some think time in addition to practice before recording. During the think time, students can just sit quietly or take notes. I think this time can help build a student’s confidence with speaking skills in English.
  • Even having think time before brainstorming in my writing class is helpful; I love to brainstorm ideas and jump right into the conversation; however, allowing think time before group brainstorming helps the quieter students to be able to participate and engage more in the actual brainstorming.
  • I’ve used exit cards before at the end of class where students can write about the class or ask a question; after the retreat, it reminded me that I need to start using these again to be sure everyone’s questions get answered.
  • I remind myself to think about the multiple ways that students can make meaning from the learning experience rather than valuing one way of creating and sharing knowledge over others; one point our group came up with is that “engagement is not the same as participating in class.”
  • I need to be sure I am intentionally allowing each student to be engaged in the way he or she is wired.

Before the retreat, I was familiar with the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain – and I’ve heard her speak, but the discussion at the retreat helped me to think through how to actually apply some of the concepts into the classroom. Even the retreat itself provided us opportunities to reflect on the presentations and apply the ideas to our teaching, which allowed me to make immediate changes to my instructional approach.

If you want to share ways that you have adapted ideas from the retreat to your teaching, please email Stephanie Whalen, Academy Chair, at or

Note: A link to the prototypes from all the Design Thinking groups from the 2018 Faculty Retreat will be shared in the 5/2 issue of the Academy News.