Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"Differentiation" Stop rolling your eyes...

Inspired by the afternoon session of #edchat today, I feel that there's a need for a blog post about Differentiation.

Oh yeah! Another buzz word!

I know. I've seen your eye rolling.  I've seen your finger quotes around the word "differentiation." 

But, keep reading, I might hook ya.

Sure, we all know what differentiation is, right?  Well, we sure know the definition that we can give if asked by an administrator or community member: Differentiation is teaching to the needs of every learner.  It's giving different strategies to different learners to get the same result: a good grade on the standardized test, right?


I'm not looking for the definition, but some practical applications, because I'm just not convinced that it's as difficult as we make it seem.

(But what about the teachers who say that "Differentiation" takes up too much time??? Well, as I read tonight on #edchat from @web20classroom and I quote "We take the time for things that are meaningful in our lives. If education and kids aren't meaningful, time to move on." Priceless.)

So, here, some practical applications of "Differentiation:"

1. Upon reading a book in an elementary school classroom at the "carpet area," allow students with attention concerns, sensorimotor problems, or other sensory issues to sit in chairs, bean bags, or in a defined space on the carpet away from other wandering hands.

2.  While reading a story to elementary school students, stop to ask questions to help make connections.  Being aware of students' baseline levels, ask one student to name the characters in the story.  Ask another student to tell which character is his favorite and why.  Ask the nonverbal student with autism to point to a verbally named character.  

3. @suedensmore gave a great example from her music class during #edchat-"Differentiation: some kids can play the lead part, others play more supporting w/less notes. We all play the same song."

4.  In a 3-8 math class where students are expected to know the times tables, place a multiplication table on the desk (or inside a notebook or the front cover of a text book to be more discreet).  Better yet, hand the student a calculator!

5.  If you know that one of your students works at a slower pace than the others and you hand out a worksheet that needs to be completed, why not CUT THE WORKSHEET IN HALF for that student.  OR, do it for half the class (no one will know which students need less work). 

6.  STOP TEACHING WITH WORKSHEETS! But, if you must, alter the worksheets for students.  Remember that students with special needs like autism or Down syndrome are often visual learners, but so are many others.  Take out extraneous detail or distracting content.  Limit text on the page.  Provide visual cues and less answer choices. (If you didn't create the worksheet, but are photocopying it, use White Out or place a Post-It over the section you want to delete while you copy the page.)

7.  In high school, let the student decide what grade to work for.  Give out a rubric for an A.  Give out a rubric for a B.  Give out a rubric for a C.  Tell the students that they can choose to get any grade they want A-C depending on the work they complete.

8.  While lecturing and expecting students to take notes in a high school or middle school class, consider handing out a template ahead of time to students who may need it.  Allow students to record lectures.  Consider recording your own lectures using a Flip Cam and post your lectures online to help students make connections between their notes and your presentation. 

9. In an elementary classroom where students are learning to add and subtract, try using Touch Math.  Teach this method of counting touch points to the whole class, and let students choose to use the strategy or not.  Do the same with touch points for coins.

10.  In a Kindergarten when writing their names, some students can use a #2 pencil, some students may need a fat tipped marker, some students may need to use stamps, while other students may need to use a keyboard to type the letters.

11.  In P.E. class, if a student cannot perform the assigned task, can it be modified?  If the student can't do jumping jacks, how about just the legs?  or just the arms?  How about running in place? 

12.  Writer's Workshop.  One student may be encouraged to write a paragraph and type it on the computer.  Another student may be encouraged to write a complete sentence and check it with a proofreading checklist.  Another student may still be asked to draw a picture.   Another student might make a graphic image or even post his work on glogster.

I believe strongly that, if you don't "differentiate," you truly are not doing your job as an educator. 

And the term "differentiation" is just a buzz word for something that's been around forever, it's called good teaching.  It's called great teaching.

And great teaching never goes out of style.


trishpip said...

Great! I haven't been following the #edchat string - is there a time that they usually meet?
Anyway, just went to a class about differentiation about a week ago - mostly for mainstream classroom teachers to see the way to put differentiation into their everyday. As support staff, I am all about putting that plan into action, so anything I can do to make it more second nature for the teachers is good. If it's okay with you, I'd like to copy your post and share it with my co-workers - I think it's a good jumping off point to help us think about other was we can make differentiation a part of our day.

Morgan said...

No problem! Please feel free to share! I would love that!

The #edchat appears to meet on Tuesdays at noon (to include those in other countries) and also at 7pm. There are two different topics. Yesterday was my first time joining in. I could get addicted...