If you are experienced in differentiating content and tasks in the classroom and are looking for ways to increase your expertise in differentiating instruction, consider how it might look in combination with class generated rubrics. Doing so can provide a rich opportunity for metacognition.
For me, differentiation starts with class generated rubrics, which then allows students to self-assess and then self-select differentiated tasks and content.
Recently my classes have been working on rhetorical analysis, and for this, I have found it necessary to teach rhetorical analysis not only as a skill, but a habit of mind whenever a text is read; therefore, I introduce students to what I call the “Rhetorical Analysis Mantra,” which goes: “Analyze how the author uses rhetorical devices to shape his/her purpose.”
About half way through our rhetorical analysis unit, we paused to cull our understanding of the skill and create a rubric as a class. To make class generated rubrics, I have found it useful to have the class break a skill into steps and rank the difficulty of the steps. This creates rubrics that urge students toward the next level instead of labeling students not quite at standard as “deficient.” For example, in relation to our study of rhetorical analysis, the class broke our mantra into three steps:
- Identify rhetorical devices present.
- Interpret the author’s purpose in the text.
- Analyze how the rhetorical devices shape the purpose.
The class also determined that was the hierarchy of difficulty for this skill, with number three being the most complex. So, to turn that into a four-point rubric, we determined a response in which only step one above was present would reflect a score of one out of four. A student response reflecting both steps one and two would earn a two, and if all three were present, the response would earn a three. In my class, a three out of four is meeting standard. What it looks like to exceed standard and earn a four on the rubric is often my input as the teacher on the rubric making process. In this case, I discussed how a rhetorical analysis response that exceeds standard notices nuances in the rhetorical devices an author uses, leading to a more perceptive interpretation. For example, a student who reads “The Death of Benny Paret” by Norman Mailer would earn a three if he/she analyzed how his use of mechanical similes dehumanizes the boxers and advocates for reform of the sport. In this example, the student identifies present devices (similes) and interprets how they function (dehumanizes the boxers). A student who exceeds standard might have noticed the nuance that the similes become increasingly inanimate, emphasizing the dehumanizing effect the sport has on the boxers over time.
SUM Differentiation Strategy
Once a class-generated rubric is set, students have the opportunity to monitor their own learning and self-differentiate. A strategy I like to use is called “Straight Forward, Uphill, Mountainous” or “SUM” for short. In this strategy, the task and content are differentiated up and down from a particular standard or skill. In practice, I create different task sheets for each level and put them into folders, spreading them among tables in the room. Students enter the activity by assessing their current ability in accordance to the rubric we created as a class and moving to the table with the appropriate SUM task. Breaking a particular skill into steps and using those steps to generate a rubric helps students self-assess; they can look at the steps and determine which they can do and which they cannot.
As the teacher, I will design a task that scaffolds students towards meeting standard for a particular skill, which will serve as the uphill level in the lesson, recognizing that even meeting standard is rigorous. From there, I will modify the task and content. The mountainous level will reflect exceeding standard. For example, with rhetorical analysis, the task in the mountainous folder will help students work toward interpreting how nuances in rhetorical devices used contribute meaning to the text; the straight forward level will be designed to help students in identifying rhetorical devices present in the text. In between is the uphill level focused on aimed at students who can identify rhetorical devices but who need help in analyzing how they function to shape meaning in a text.
What skill are you currently working on in your class? How might class generated rubrics and the SUM activity be used to differentiate tasks and content and enable students to self-differentiate?
When outside of the classroom, I enjoy mtn. biking, skiing, running, and grilling good food, but don’t enjoy karaoke or green beans, mainly because I can’t sing and was afraid of the Jolly Green Giant as a kid.
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