This year in my district, there is a big push for differentiation. The new laws regarding highly capable as well as the widening skills in the general education classroom call for teachers to address the needs of more than ‘the middle’.
The leaders in our district turned to the research of Dr. Tomlinson. Dr. Tomlinson, “advocates active planning for and attention to student differences in classrooms, in the context of high quality curriculums.”
While I always knew that I needed to teach to a broad range of abilities in the general education setting, and I knew some of the general concepts Dr. Tomlinson promotes, the practice of true differentiation is new to me.
Our district offered a differentiated instruction workshop, particularly geared towards meeting the needs of highly capable students. Because the students I work with are low achieving (at least in reading), and grouped with me to work on a specific skill, I didn’t feel the need to practice these differentiation strategies.
Then I thought, “why not?”
I was intrigued by the concept of Choice Menus.
I am not an expert in differentiation or choice menus. As I understand it, the purpose of offering choice is to motivate students and give them options to show what they know through a content, process, or product choice.
My 3rd grade intervention group just finished up a unit on advanced vowels and they all were reading at 97% or higher accuracy (my goal for them). I wanted to work on fluency, but 30 minutes daily of fluency practice is torture. Enter the choice menu!!
- Decide on a skill
For this group, I spoke with the teachers and asked what comprehension skill these students were lacking. All the teachers said Main Idea and Details. Great!
- Teach the skill
- Create and Introduce the Menu
Look on Pinterest for choice menus and a screen full of super cute ideas will appear. Choice menus are formulated just like a menu in a restaurant. Here are the basics:
- Appetizer: a small task students demonstrate knowledge of the skill.
- Entrée: a larger task (something with meat, if you will) demonstrating the students’ skill or knowledge of the task. This is where I decide if more instruction is needed.
- Side dishes: tasks that build on the entrée skill and begin to offer different content, process, or product choice.
- Desserts: what I consider the fun project. This could be a culminating project allowing for more creativity. The dessert, in my group, is for students who finished the entrée and side dishes and have shown me they’ve mastered the skill and want to show me in a different way.
- Practice the skill, choose from the menu
As the first step of the choice menu, students need to show me they understand the concept or skill before they are allowed to show me what they know in different ways. I check in with students throughout the time to decide who needs a bit more instruction, who is ready to go, and who is whipping through the tasks quickly.
I have a very small intervention group. The choice menu made me feel like I was juggling while riding a horse and hula hooping in the circus. I would need to do a lot more practicing before trying this with a larger group, or, (gasp), a classroom full of students. I appreciated the time I could spend with each student. As a person who is used to direct instruction, I didn’t feel like I was moving through the content quickly enough. I feel like the practice (you do) was too long. I’m not sure if this works for the type of group I have.
Have you used choice menus? What do you use to differentiate instruction?