Sunday, December 19, 2010

I just give them an extra worksheet when they're done....

What does differentiation look like? Seriously! Is it something you can put your hands on or is it something in the moment. What I do know is that for some teachers differentiation is natural and in the moment and for others it might take some planning. What we as educators need to grasp is that differentiation is most definitely not an extra worksheet at the end of a lesson. While we all hate to hear that we need to do something else, differentiation does not need to be a burden.

I have two examples of lessons that as a teacher I found were prime examples of how some preplanning allowed me to differentiate. Also the preplanning allowed me to not have to put a great deal of energy into focusing on it (then and after). After all, the students should be the ones doing the extra work not the teacher.

The first lesson was a long term project in Science that counted as a test grade (I never gave sit down tests because I feel application of concepts taught, truly demonstrates understanding). The project was called the "Creature Paper." It was given just after we had discussed 6 different systems of the human body. It begged that the student create a creature of their choice and develop a system of the body that reflected each system in the human body that we reviewed. The students were not only asked to invent a system, but justify why that stem would work in the environment that their creature would live and then compare it to the human system that it would be most compatible to (cool right!). They were also asked to draw a picture of each system. As you can imagine I received some amazing products! One of my favorites was a creature that was born in a rain drop and its whole life passed in the time that the rain drop fell (It was intense!) Because in this project I was looking for some basic comprehension of the human body, the design allowed me to gather if any particular student had the right level of understanding and at the same time let any learner explore, at which ever level they wanted, their wildest ideas. Once I developed the lesson it was done! No extra work. No sleepless SAIL nightmares.

The second lesson was a quiz style that came to define me. When students in my class took quizzes, they participated in a unique experience. Quizzes to me should be a formative assessment that gathers quick feedback on whether or not your class got whatever it was that you where teaching over the last week or month. My design was to have all of the desks in a circle. The students wold all take a seat and each would have a question at their seat. When the quiz began they would flip the question and have 2 minutes to answer it. After 2 minutes I would say "Okay.... Switch." At that moment all of the students would stand and move to the seat to right of them and have 2 minutes for that next question (after all if you don't know it in 2 minutes you probably didn't know it!). Each question allowed a student to respond based on their strength, which could have been writing, drawing, diagraming, etc.... In addition I would play music in the background and introduce the artist with some background before we started. This practice awarded me a fellowship from the Developmental Disabilities Counsel for excellence in practices in inclusive education (Not to mention it was a lot of fun!).

Again, some of us are naturals. We do it without a second thought. However, in a time when less support is being offered by the district to support our most advance students and students who need the most support, we need to develop a classroom model that will both address their needs and not give us more work!

Help us out and share! How do you differentiate?


  1. At a professional development day; after listening to a speaker discuss the various ways in which teachers can offer differentiated instruction to their classes, I looked carefully at my notes, leaned over to a fellow art teacher and whispered, “We do this all the time”. After I teach about an artist, culture, element of art, etc., I usually give students the parameters of a project. I then tell them to let me know if they have a different way to express themselves and if so we can discuss it. That gives me immediate feedback that this child wants to “extend” the project.

    As I circulate around the room, I see students that have many different types of solutions to the creative question posed to them. When I see that some children are not following my directions (could be the color relationship requested, or the technique,etc) I make a quick decision: are they not following the parameters because they 1) do not understand the lesson, 2) are not putting any effort into it, or 3) are taking the project to the next level.

    If I am not sure, I ask them a few questions about the project. If they do not understand it, I will try to explain it in a different manner. If they are not showing enough effort, we will discuss and try to alleviate the problem. When I see a child breaking the “rules” I’ve given and solving the problem in a truly creative manner I appreciate their effort. I will then encourage them to continue their problem solving and thinking outside the box.

    Of course, visual art lends itself to differentiated instruction quite easily, because of the many different solutions to a problem. I do however, have to “encourage” the children to work harder and think for themselves about the artwork without me giving them all the answers. I compare “revision” in art with “editing” in writing and “practice” in sports.

  2. Differentiation definitely comes in many different forms. As mentioned at our last staff meeting, differentiation could be anything from a formal tiered assignment to an informal, interactive sharing of knowledge.

    In my second grade classroom, I try to differentiate with our mandated curriculum, and have both formal and informal differentiation. Here are a few to list:

    1. Extension Menus-I have created an Extension Menu to coincide with each story from the Houghton Mifflin program. The activities are on a tic-tac-toe style worksheet. The students have their choice of 3 activities (in a row). The activities are connected to the computer, drawing, map making, math problems, biography posters, research trivia, etc.

    2. Science Enrichment Stations- Students rotate (by way of a class pocket chart). Stations include "Book Nook," "Share Pair," "Computer Corner," and "Game Spot."

    3. Each Friday, I have parent volunteers come in to work with flexible reading groups on leveled readers and/or chapter books. There are guided reading activities to go along with it Each group also creates a group project.

    4. Spelling lists are differentiated each week, based on a student's spelling pre-test score.

    5. Math enrichment packets are sent home weekly and are optional to complete. Skills connect with concepts from our studied unit.

    6. Social Studies leveled readers and comprehension activites to coincide with our studied chapter.

    7. Enrichment activities/project based work that connect with the Worldscape Continent Books (books sets are found in the library. Second grade concentrates on Africa.

    I'm sure there is more to list....but I think that should be enough for now. Sorry for the lengthy response.

  3. We are given curriculum to follow. That being said, there are many extensions included in the curriculum for each theme, unit or chapter of study. These can be easily incorporated into the weeks focus. In addition, differentiation can occur with leveling of assignments, especially those involving reading and writing. Enhancing units of study with creative activities and centers is also a good way to differentiate. With 25 children in a class and very little help, we must find ways that lend themselves easily to class instruction. And, in keeping with the focus on the mandated curriculum selected for each area of study, using the already established extension activities for those areas of study seems to be the easiest way.

  4. Differentiation varies year to year. It depends on the emotional, social and academic needs of the students. In addition, it depends on how much time and support a teacher has to develop, implement and monitor the activities.

    My students IEPs determine the differentiation that occurs in my classroom. I have students on different spelling lists, readers, and math concepts. In order for this to be successful, I rely on the support of the paraprofessionals in my class. I am grateful for their assistance.