The Ultimate in Differentiation: Genius Hour

I’m excited that I got up early this morning for the #geniushour chat. It used to be at a convenient time when I lived in North America. Now I’m living in the Middle East, and so I have to get up by 5:00 a.m. on a Friday, which is a weekend day here. Not so bad because I became re-inspired and re-ignited in a topic I am passionate about.

That topic is handing the reigns over to my students. Allowing them to learn and make and choose how to show their learning. It’s not always easy to give choices when we are mandated to test and cover so much material. However, when students are entrusted with learning–real learning, not just to pass a test learning–they are empowered and motivated. It makes every moment of school better!

This morning I actually was the moderator for the #geniushour chat because I wanted to ask questions about differentiating genius hour for students with special needs or English language learners. My questions were timely because months ago I signed up to lead a session on genius hour: “Genius Hour: Productive, Creative, and Empowered Students.” That session is tomorrow at the ELT Conference here in Bahrain, “Differentiation That Makes a Difference.

Here are the questions we asked and answered at this morning’s chat…

Q1 – Do you differentiate during #geniushour? How?
Q2 – What are some of the most common reasons you need to differentiate #geniushour?
Q3 – How do you help your ELL students? Do you need to differentiate for them?
Q4 – How do you adapt #geniushour for students with IEPs? Any tips to share?
Q5 – Why do you think #geniushour is great for all learners?
Q6 – Any general #geniushour successes that you want to share? Tips and links to share?

I was excited to hear the answers from such a variety of teachers. Many shared that the nature of genius hour is already differentiated. Pure differentiation. Others had suggestions for how they differentiate. Here are a selection of the tweets they shared:

 (Click here to go to the archive of all the Tweets.)

After this morning, I tend to agree with the pure differentiation crowd.  Students decide what they will learn and how. The term differentiation is usually paired with instruction, but really it’s always about learning.

Students will learn in the right conditions. According to Carol Ann Tomlinson, we can help create the right conditions when we take into account the student characteristics of readiness, interest, and learning profile, which includes these four facets of learning profile: gender, culture, learning style, and intelligence preference.¹ Teachers can differentiate the curriculum when they make adjustments on content, process and products.²

In genius hour we hand over power to the students. They choose what they are ready for. They choose what they are interested in. They choose based on their learning profile. They choose the content they want to learn. They choose the process to use to get to that end. They choose the product to show their learning. Throughout, the teacher is available for scaffolding, guiding, helping, leading as needed. Primarily, it’s about the learning, not the knowledge the teacher is imparting.

In my current work as an English teacher in a foreign country, though, I am learning that genius hour looks a little different here. (Or is it the fact that I moved from junior high to kindergarten.) According to most of my friends this morning at the Twitter chat, it seems that the very nature of genius hour is differentiation at its best.

Do you agree? Is it already differentiated or are their special things you do for ELL students? What if they are all ELL students, like mine?

If you have something to share, will you please add one or more tips for using genius hour with English language learners to this Linoit? (I’ll share your comments with the participants at the conference.)

¹”Faculty Conversation: Carol Tomlinson on Differentiation.” University of Virginia. Curry School of Education, 15 Feb. 2011. Web. 06 Mar. 2015. <>.

²Allan, Susan D. “Chapter 1. Understanding Differentiated Instruction: Building a Foundation for Leadership.” Leadership for Differentiating Schools & Classrooms. By Carol A. Tomlinson. ASCD, 2000. web. 06 Mar. 2015.  <>

6 thoughts on “The Ultimate in Differentiation: Genius Hour

  1. Whenever I do a sessions on “Personalization”, I tend to ask folks what the difference between Personalizing FOR students and Personalizing BY students. I believe that this is the heart of why Genius Hour is construct that matters. It is Personalized (and not just differentiated) BY the students.

    While I would agree that Genius Hour should look different in different grade levels and different schools (depending on the needs of the students and their readiness to take the reigns), I think that is as far as differentiation can go. Differentiation is still about the teacher orchestrating the environment and the resources so that students can learn. Personalization, to me at least, is about the students having the ownership and the ability to make instructional choices that benefit their learning in ways that the teacher would never be able to anticipate.

    P.S. This comment is a part of the #C4C15 project. Find out more here:

  2. Ben,
    First of all, Wow! how exciting to read about your #C4C15 project. I love it. I just made a comment on another blog post. I’ll try to join the conversation more this year!

    Thanks for your comments. I certainly like the designation of personalization FOR and BY. Yes, genius hour is definitely personalized by each student who participates. Thanks for the clarification between differentiation and personalization.

    I continue to learn something new every day! Thank you for adding to my knowledge.

    Warm regards,

  3. Mrs. Krebs,
    It is great to see you posting again! I did in fact receive your email and I am so glad that I will be able to share your kind words with other students here at the University of South Alabama in EDM310. I am also excited to see your conversation about genius hour continuing. Its so awesome to get this kind of insight on such a creative process from yourself as well as other educators that practice genius hour. I absolutely love the hashtag and will definitely be digging around on twitter to get some useful advice, inspiration, and connectivity for my personal learning network. I so enjoy your blog. I’ll definitely be returning for more of your posts!
    – Corinne Shirley

    1. Thank you, Corine, for stopping by again! I’m glad there was a new post for you! I’m hoping to be a more active blogger in 2015. Best wishes as you finish up the term at USA!


  4. Mrs. Krebs,
    I adore this post! I am studying Elementary Education at the University of South Alabama. I think this concept is vital! This way of learning is setting the students up to succeed! What an important thing to do! I hope to look up more about #geniushour and I surely plan on taking this concept into my classroom as an educator. Thank you for this inspiration and all you do for your learners.

    1. Sarah,
      Thanks again for visiting my blog. Yes, I too believe learning like genius hour is vital. It seems like every day I hear or read something interesting that articulates the need for freeing our students to learn. I hope you’ll join the #geniushour community on Twitter!


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