Thursday, January 23, 2014

Simple Ways to Differentiate Instruction

Ok, what's your first reaction to the word "differentiate"?
  • multiple lesson plans
  • multiple worksheets
  • multiple multiple multiple....
Who has time for multiple? I surely don't! But what I do have time for is...
  • one lesson plan
  • one worksheet
  • one on one instruction say! That's not differentiating! Hold your horses folks...wait and see!  This is differentiating IF:
  • the lesson is tailored for all levels of readiness
  • the worksheet is scaffolded for all levels of understanding
    • this means you allow students to begin where they are ready, skip what they don't need and/or pause when it feels impossible to continue
  • the teacher sees to it that each student gets what he/she needs in order to grow 
Really if the thought of differentiating sends you into panic then give it another name.  Some might just call these best practices, others might argue that differentiating only occurs when all of the above no longer works.  I really don't want this post to get caught up in educational name games or we start missing the point....are we creating opportunities for all students to grow from his/her own level of readiness? 

Here are a couple of simple things you can do to differentiate or implement best practices or whatever you want to call it:
  • Blank Paper Formative Assessment
    • every student has a blank sheet of paper
    • teacher instructs the class "Without support, show me all you can about....assuming I know nothing about it....ready go!"
    • collect papers and quickly sort them into 3-4 groups based on levels of understanding
      • example below:  the top 3 pictures are blank paper formative assessments I sorted into 3 groups (pushpins indicate the symbol assigned to each student)
        • (Star = Mastery, Squiggle = Basic & Down Arrow = Below Basic)
        • Choose any symbol or grading method you choose (symbols, numbers, stickers, color code with highlighters...)

    • Lesson Planning  spice up your lesson plans according to different time frames because as we know not all students end up at the same level of understanding at the same time.  I do this using 3 categories and I make it visible for all learners so they know not only what they should be doing but why and how it connects to what's coming next...
      • Last Chance: this means this is the last chance for working on practice started previously....after this day students must complete at home or during tutoring
      • Moving On: no new information is introduced, but it reinforces learning objectives...Last Chance students may not have the opportunity to do this in can strongly encourage them to complete it on their own time or make it required 
      • What's Next: here enters the symbol groups from the blank paper formative assessment....
        • Stars = new information for students that reached mastery on the last skill in order to move on (this could be guided notes with video or embedded explanations with recall/rote skill practice)
        • Squiggles and Down Arrows = support practice for basic/below basic students 
          • scaffold practice to include recall and application practice
            • ideas that include both types of practice on one worksheet
              • within directions have students complete recall or lower level application practice using mini-whiteboards
              • once mastery of lower skills occurs then continue on with "paper" practice for higher skill application
              • always honor the "squiggle" students not in need of the lower level practice by allowing them to skip the whiteboards and move on to higher level practice
Hopefully you notice that students are front and center for all of these strategies. When this happens, the teacher is free to move about the room and work with students one on one or in small groups. Gone are the days of "sit and get" as we transition to instruction that allows students to "seek and find". We must empower students by giving them the tools and time to grow in understanding as well as multiple pathways to show off what they know and are able to do.