While meeting the varied needs of students is one of our profession’s greatest challenges, I believe that differentiation is not only possible, but when done well, it creates classrooms with self-directed, respected, collaborative, and engaged students.
A staple in my on-going efforts to differentiate effectively is If/Then charts. Many of my colleagues have asked me how I use them, and I thought I would share some thoughts here.
To me, an If/Then chart is particularly helpful in the creating process. As a high school LA teacher, that often means the writing process. As is normal and desired, when thirty kids start writing, they end up in different positions at different times. When we are in the thick of the writing cycle, I structure my classes with a minilesson, followed by a reminder of our calendar due dates, and then I provide work options. Below is my most recent example work options. This comes from my 9th-grade classes; students were working on personal narratives.
|If||Then||Who?||What you need to be ready to show me at end of class.|
|You want to stretch out problems to build tension,||Find a place where you know there should be more suspense.
Expand it by emphasizing some of the following:
–A character really wants something
–A character encounters trouble
–A character fails
|SB, KC, TH, EB, KB, GM, MK, IE, AG||Expanded section|
|You want to angle your story more to your theme,||Look over your draft. Identify moments that relate to what your story is about. Where do I want readers to stop and linger?” Circle these parts and elaborate on them, making them larger and more powerful.
–External – Internal Map
|JLF, KB, MC, AB, NC, LF||Show me at least three sections where you elaborated on your theme.|
|You want to reflect on on how to conclude your piece,||Write a reflection, in your narrative or notebook, answering the following questions:
What is my story really, really about? • What feelings or thoughts do I want readers to have at the end of my story? • Have I tied up most of the loose ends and brought closure to most of the issues I created in my story?
|DR, AB, ES, MK, IK, JH, MC, Sam B,||A page-long reflection|
|You want to have a new set of eyes on it,||Find someone to exchange drafts with who will read it and not just praise it, but ask tough questions.||BB, NB, EB||Show the feedback you got.|
|You are still just drafting,||Well, get to it. It’s better you turn in something tomorrow rather than nothing!
–Go back to our narrative texts for inspiration if you get stuck.
|LO, DB, MM||Show me where you are before you leave.|
Each element is connected to our Teachers College rubric, which directly ties to certain Common Core elements. The top three elements tie back to lessons I already gave. After I went through these options, students committed to a particular task. The chart both respects student autonomy and holds them accountable. While students work, I have one-on-one conferences with students about specific elements of their writing.
The chart not only helps me understand what students aim to work on, but it is “data.” I have used these charts to establish student partnerships, identify students who can lead a class lesson, or source students from a particular category to show their work to the class to illustrate a lesson. Furthermore, if a particular element isn’t strong in a student’s writing, then I can go back to this and say, “So, huh? How well did your choice work for you? What will you choose next time?”
While direct instruction certainly has its place, I find that If/Then charts–even in high school–create a classroom dynamic that not only feels purposeful but democratic.
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