According to Carol Tomlinson, differentiation “means teachers proactively plan varied approaches to what students need to learn, how they will learn it, and/or how they will show what they have learned in order to increase the likelihood that each student will learn as much as he or she possibly can, as efficiently as possible.”
Differentiation is critical for student success. It is also a daunting task. My biggest challenge as a teacher is that I try to be perfect. My formative assessments tend to be too large to process quickly. Without the information from those assessments, I end up flying blind as I set up groups and plan instruction. I end up teaching to the middle. That’s not good enough. I need to teach to the extreme ends of the spectrum.
The key to differentiation is agile and effective use of formative assessment. I have made a good start on establishing a daily entry task/exit ticket habit in my classroom. (See my post Habits: Cue, Response, Reward.) Those tasks/tickets are now laser-focused on the key learning of the day. They fit on a quarter sheet of paper. I can sort student responses into three stacks–got it, needs more practice, and not yet–in less than five minutes. No more guess work as to who needs what.
Baby steps going forward. I will take current “worksheets” and make two or three versions of them. One that has ample scaffolding for students in the “not yet” category for that learning target. One with very little scaffolding for those who just need more practice. One with more complex applications of the same skills and content. This is just a baby step because I’m only differentiating the task or product. Tomlinson encourages teachers to differentiate Content, Product, Process and Affect/Learning Environment. Whew! Extreme Teaching across the spectrum isn’t for the faint of heart, but my students are worth it!
- BEST Practices at Tier 1: Daily Differentiation for Effective Instruction by Gregory, Kaufeldt and Mattos. There’s an elementary and secondary version.
- http://differentiationcentral.com/ has videos and strategies.
The image is the spectrum of copper from Wikimedia Commons.
Please share how you differentiate in your classroom and recommend books, articles and websites.
Married to Larry, an old Coast Guard salt and amazing man.I get to share Larry with our yellow lab, Sherman.
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