The Management of Individual Differences in Primary Schools

The Management of Individual Differences in Primary Schools

This seminar paper examines the Management of individual differences among pupils in primary schools. The paper discloses that individual differences are a variation that distinguishes a child from another in their totality which makes each child unique. Pupils achieve this uniqueness through a complex interplay between genetic and environmental influences. These influences make them differ in physical attributes, cognitive abilities and style, language functioning and in their personality characteristics. Four different approaches have been highlighted for the management of these differences in the classrooms. Such as modifying events of instruction, classroom grouping, individualized instruction and mastery learning. Based on these issues examined, some recommendations were made for efficient handling of pupils’ individual differences, which is the provision of appropriate stimulation and encouragement to pupils based on their intellectual functioning and so on.


Sivadas (2012) sees management as all the activities and tasks undertaken by one or more persons for the purposes of planning and controlling the activities of others in order to achieve an objective. Management as a course of study has to do with the administration, knowledge and understanding of the group of people to be led.

National Policy on Education (2012) explains Primary Education as education given in primary schools for children aged six to eleven years plus. In addition, the primary level is the key to the success or failure of the whole system. As the bedrock upon which all other educational levels are built, the National Policy on Education (2012) stipulates the following goals which needs to be achieved since education is seen as the key to national development. The goals included:

–        To inculcate permanent literacy and numeracy and ability to communicate effectively in pupils.

–        To lay a sound basis for scientific and reflective thinking among pupils.

–        To give Citizenship Education as a basis for effective participation in pupils and for them to contribute to the life of the society.

–        To mould pupils’ characters and also to help them develop sound attitude and morals.

–        To develop in pupils the ability to adapt to their changing environment.

–        To give the pupils opportunities to develop manipulate skills that will enable them function effectively in the society within the limit of their capacities.

–        To provide the pupils with basic tools for further educational advancement, including preparation for trades and craft of the locality.

These goals form the basis of primary education within the federation. For all the pupils in primary schools to learn, acquire knowledge and skills at the same pace and time for the actualization of the above goals, efficient handling of individual differences among pupils in the classroom is of paramount. Although, pupils are human beings with developed brains, each pupils is unique, no two pupils can be said to be exactly the same even when they are of the same parenthood or identical twins. Each pupil achieves this uniqueness as a result of a complex interplay between genetic and environmental influences. These differences therefore call for additional effort by the classroom teachers for more effectiveness.

This seminar paper will concentrate on the concept of individual differences, areas of individual differences among pupils, causes of individual differences among pupils and the management of individual differences among pupils in the classroom.


According to the Dictionary of Education, individual differences stand for the variation or deviations among individuals in regards to single characteristics. It tells the differences which in their totality distinguish one individual from another. Simply, one could say that individual differences among humans distinguish or separate them from another and makes one or single unique individual.


Bassett (2000) disclosed different areas of individual differences (variations) among pupils in the classroom. These are:

  1. Individual Differences in Physical Attributes: Pupils in the classroom differ in their physical attributes which distinguish them from one another. These attributes include, sex, height, weight, age, colour of eyes, skin, hairs, fingers and toes structures.
  2. Individual Differences in cognitive abilities and styles: Pupils’ individual differences in cognitive abilities and styles are of different ranges. Each pupil possessed a unique profile of cognitive strengths and weaknesses. Some pupils are gifted and talented to learn more faster than others because of their major strength in convergent thinking. Such pupils have the ability to think clearly and apply same in situations that need concrete materials or figures learning. Others will do their best in the area of divergent thinking. Amongst these, some pupils perform better in symbolic tasks while few pupils do best in semantics. Still, there are pupils who are highly creative, showing flexibility, fluency and creativity in their interactions with their environment. Cognitive style in pupils differ in terms of sensory orientation, responsive mode and thinking pattern, some pupils learn through the use of senses, motor activities, use of language, and cues. Others work best in groups or independently. Some are active participants while others are observers.
  3. Individual differences in language functioning: Pupils in a particular classroom are prone to variations in language functioning even when they come from the same socio-economic homes and cultural background. Pupils vary in their command of vocabulary, precision of the concepts they have developed, their abilities to facilitate problem solving through the use of language, their verbal fluency and creativeness (Bassett et al, 2000). Pupils differ in language competence and performance both in their mother-tongue and English language.
  4. Individual Differences in Personality Traits: Personality characteristics in pupils include emotions, motivations, attitudes and values, self concept and locus of control.
  5. Individual Differences in Emotion: Some pupils in primary schools feel insecure when they are not loved by their parents or caregivers because their homes are emotional unstable. Their parents fight or quarrel regularly; their pupils will be so preoccupied with such needs and can hardly think of higher needs like self-esteem and actualization. They lost interest and concern academically due to poor relationship with classroom teacher and mates.
  6. Individual Differences in Motivation: Pupils in the classroom are faced with some challenges which need to be addressed before they can perform effectively in their academics. Most pupils display differences in their needs for achievement. The need is very strong in some pupils but appear weak in others. Also, there are others who could still strive for excellence taking school work as personal challenges despite no motivation. Others are motivated to achieve because of fear of failure. Yet, others do not see the classroom as a setting for achievement and as such do not place premium on school success. Pupils in a class are also motivated by the need for affiliation. For such children, if school success can bring about this approved, they will work hard in order to achieve it. Also, if they can achieve such affiliative and approval needs outside the classroom, they may view such school activities as of little personal importance and will strive only minimally toward classroom goals.
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Another area of differences among pupils under personality traits is Locus of Control. For some pupils success or failure is based on their actions, thus such school children regard success in a particular area to be of personal importance and will devote attention and energy to the learning of such tasks in order to succeed. While others regard success or failures as a function of luck or feel that they are pre-doomed, are most unlikely to exert energy to classroom activities.

  1. Individual Differences in Values and Attitude: Pupils in different classes or the same class differ widely I n their values and attitudes. Some are ambitious, striving for such terminal values like a comfortable life while some go for special recognition and a sense of accomplishment. Some value independence, striving towards inner harmony while others seek independence in search of an exciting life. School children also have varying attitudes towards education and schooling. Some pupils are positively oriented toward education while others are not. Those who are positive see it as a means of achieving some of their life goals or as a process that can allow rewarding achievement. Those who are negative to it, view education as offering personal irrelevances and a series of unpleasant failing experiences.

Moreso, Bassett (2012) explained that some pupils who are positive toward schools see it as a place that offers them opportunity for social contacts and friendship rather than for its academic programmes.

  1. Individual Differences in Self-Concept: Self-concept is one of the personality traits which differences is observed among pupils among pupils in their classes depending on their prior experiences and adjustment to these experiences. Some pupils are very dependent on others despite age and will cling to their teacher’s personality for easy comforting attitudes, such children are anxious to learn in order to please significant others. Such pupils because of their inner security and a good sense of confidence can form good relationship with peers and those around them. They can also enjoy challenges from class tasks, provide such tasks are within their ability. Others are less easy in themselves, striving for status through their own achievement. Their earlier attitudes to non-accepting parents can be transferred to their teachers. Some pupils, as they grow take pride in assuming more mature roles while others will still cling to the certainty of earlier, less mature relationships. Some pupils will enter the class with healthy personality while others show varying levels of mistrustfulness, shame, doubt, or guilt.
  2. Individual Differences in Motor Ability: Pupils exist differences widely in motor abilities such as reacting time, speed of action, steadiness, rate of muscular moment, manual dexterity and resistance to fatigue.
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Maheshwari (2016) outlined the following as the causes of individual differences among pupils:

  1. Heredity: Some heretical traits bring a change from one individual to others. An individual’s height, size, shape, colour of hair, shape of face, nose, hands, leg and the entire structure of the body is determined by his heretical qualities. Heredity contributes to sex, intelligence, growth, development and progress in pupils.
  2. 2. Environment: The environment influences are those which act upon the organism, at the earlier stages of development within mother’s womb (internal environment and later external environment) which operates from the time birth. The social psychological environment in which, the child is born provides social heritage. The customs, socio-economic status family, peers, church and school, environment cause variety conditions to determine individual differences. Environment brings individual differences in pupils’ behaviour, activities, attitude style of life, characteristics and personality. Environment as its implies in this context does not refer only to physical surroundings but embodies the different types of people, community, their culture, customs, traditions, social heritage, ideas and ideals.
  3. 3. Sex: Due to sex variation, one pupil differs from other. Differences exist in the mental power of both sexes. Girls show small superiority over boys in memory, language and aesthetic sense. Girls excel boys in shouldering social responsibilities and have a better control over their emotions.
  4. 4. Age: Age is another factor which is responsible in bringing individual differences among pupils. Learning abilities and adjustment capacity naturally grow with age. When one grows in age can acquire better control over higher emotions and better social responsibilities. When a child grows, then this maturity and development goes side-by-side.
  5. 5. Education: It is one of the major factor which brings individual differences. There is a wide gap in the behaviour of children who are educate and uneducated. All traits of human beings like social, emotional and intellectual are controlled and modified through proper education. As the name implies, education brings a change in attitude, behaviour, appreciations and personality in both children and adult. It is seen that uneducated persons are guided by their instinct and emotions whereas the educated persons are guided by their reasoning power.

 The aim of education is to enable each pupil to attain all round development according to his/her own attributes. To achieve this suitable assistance and guidance must be provided to pupils in accordance with their abilities and learning needs so that they can develop their potential to the full since their variety of individual differences are of most concern to the classroom teachers. According to Hilt (2007), four approaches have been selected for dealing with individual differences among pupils in primary schools.

Firstly, Maheshwar (2016) opined that in making provision for individual differences among pupils, the classroom teacher must know about the abilities, capacities, interest, attitudes and other personality traits of pupils in his/her classroom through pupils’ cumulative record card.

The four approaches selected are:

  1. Modifying events of instruction
  2. Classroom grouping
  3. Individualized instruction
  4. Mastering learning

 Modifying Events of Instruction: Hilt (2007) explained that in this approach, the classroom teachers need to modify their event of instruction so that, they specifically address pupil’s individual differences. It involves the use of varieties of attractive instructional materials that engage all the five senses during lesson delivery in the classroom. with these, the lesson will look real, clearer, less tedious, exciting, interesting and meaningful. Also, the teacher should adopt child-centred style where pupils are actively involved in the process because it permits teacher-pupils and pupil-pupil interactions in the classroom.

In addition, David Merrill (2002) added that pupils individual differences can be improved if the first principles of instruction are properly applied by teachers in the classroom during lesson delivery. For instance, during lesson presentation, the instruction should be centered on relevant real world tasks that progresses from simple to complex. Pupils despite their cognitive abilities should be activated by asking them to recall their previous experiences that is related to the new knowledge they are about to acquire.

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This help to lay a solid foundation for the new knowledge which enhances their learning. Also, pupils respond during lesson delivery should be given feedback. The teacher should demonstrate the new knowledge in the context of real life which of information and skilled base. The teacher should encourage the pupils to integrate the new knowledge acquired into their life through reflections like class discussion, writing and debates.

  1. Classroom Grouping: Hilt (2007) explained that the teacher should adopt within-class grouping which pupils with different cognitive abilities are shared into three or four groups of both sexes to carry out tasks during instruction in the classroom.

This can be otherwise called cooperative learning. Such grouping should be done in Mathematics, Basic Science, Cultural and Creative Arts instruction. This instructional strategy seems to be more flexible and less stigmatizing. It enhances the acquisition of knowledge skills by pupils because pupils with low cognitive abilities will benefit from their colleague with high cognitive abilities. Pupils who are extrovert are grouped with introvert to help them express their views during discussion.

  1. Individualized Instruction: Udosen et al (2015) explains this approach as a method of teaching in which the content, instructional materials and pace of learning are based upon the abilities, interest and needs of the pupils. Here, the classroom teacher groups the pupils according to how their brain process and learn into small groupings, as in Mathematics instruction. To add to this, the teacher should extend a topic which pupils need more help for more than one week. Previous lesson should be reviewed in the classes with emphasis on important facts. In a particular subject, simple tasks with guidance should be given to low cognitive abilities pupils as homework until when they demonstrate mastery. It can be changed to complex ones while challenging tasks can be given to those with high abilities to assess their capacities. Their notes should be checked, where wrongly copied, guidance should be given individually.

Also, the teacher should advice the more advanced pupils to help the lower level ones solve difficult problems, talk about the content (Etuk & Afangideh, 2008).

  1. Mastery Learning: According to John Parankimalil (2015) mastery learning theorizes that all children can learn excellently and master each learning unit if they are provided with appropriate learning conditions.

for the class teacher to handle properly the pupils’ individual differences, he/she should provide enough time, good quality of instruction and adequate instructional materials in a motivational atmosphere, pupils despite the individual differences can learn effectively and master any learning unit. This can help to improve pupils’ intellectual functioning and self-concept.


The problem of individual differences among pupils in the primary schools can be tacked with multi-dimensional tasks. As classroom teachers, we must be aware of pupils’ individual differences because it may enhance pupils’ understanding or limit their opportunity to learn from school environment. These factors should be taken into consideration when we plan teaching and learning process in the classrooms. 


  1. Classroom Environment should be rich with varied learning materials and experiences.
  2. Appropriate stimulation and encouragement should be given to pupils based on their intellectual functioning.
  3. Teachers should be able to communicate using words which will be at the level of the pupils’ age, experience and background.
  4. Teachers should work hard to develop positive attitude in their pupils by setting goals which are in consonant with their values.
  5. Teachers should strive to develop positive self-concepts in their pupils by encouraging and reinforcing their school activities.


Etuk, G. K. and Afangide, M. E. (2008). Curriculum Organization and Chance. Uyo: Published by Scholars Press (Nig.) Ltd.

Etuk, E. N; Udosen, A. E; Emah, E. and Afangide, M. E. (2015). Curriculum: The Basics of Planning and Implementation. Uyo: Abaam Publishing Co.

Federal Republic of Nigeria (2012). National Policy on Education, Lagos: Federal Government Press.

Huilt, L. E. (2007). “The Structural Basis of Inter-Individual Differences in Human Behaviour and Cognitive” Nature Review Neuroscience, Vol. 12:132-141.

Merrill, M. D. (2002). First Principles of Instruction Education Technology Research and Development, 50(3): 43-59.

Obiuleluozor, B. (2015). Adaptive Individual Differences. Journal of Personality, 6.7(2): 209-243.

Sherton, M. (2015). Personality, Individual Differences and Intelligence: London: Pearson Education.

United Nations (2009). The Concept of Personality between 19th Century UN and 20th Century UN, American Psychology History of Psychology, 6(2): 133-142.

Mr. Harrison

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