Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Quick Guide for Differentiation

My teachers and I have been spending quite a bit of time recently, discussing "differentiation." Not surprisingly, we are finding that this umbrella concept has different meanings for different teachers. I thought about the degree to which I differentiated instruction and assessment during my career in the classroom. The following brief list outlines my own experience with differentiation, something I offered to my teachers to keep the discussion going. Your thoughts and comments on the list's highlights and "lowlights" are appreciated.


Begin with a mindset
  • every student has a unique mind (genetics, upbringing, processing speed, perception, etc.)
  • every student is unique in terms of learning process, each student endowed with relative learning strengths and learning weaknesses
  • students master content and skills at different rates
  • not all students have to have the same number of assessments (formative and summative)
  • not all students have to have even the same type of assessments
  • embrace the following challenge: accommodate for slow, fast, weak, strong learners in each class

Plan with differentiation in mind
  • a yearly game plan is (I believe) a “must” (example here and here - two sequential units completely planned … you can explore the site - the entire year is completely planned)
  • plan all summative assessments well in advance, working with an LSS Specialist to modify up or down depending (see links above and then scroll down to see all formative and summative assignments for the entire year linked and downloadable)
  • plan to allow students to work through units at their own pace
  • plan for small amounts (5-20 minutes) of common and direct instructional time in class and out; plan for both heterogenous and homogenous grouping sessions
  • plan for active learning in the classroom (for many of us HS teachers, “homework” should probably be done in class and “teacher-talk sessions” could/should be done outside of class via screencasts/videos/readings
  • plan to allow students to reflect on their learning (oral, written, or both); Hattie’s research indicates that this strategy is among the most impactful in terms of supporting all learners

Use differentiated strategies to instruct
  • homogeneous groups when you have “faster” groups and “slower” groups, especially when slower groups need more time and attention; this allows for faster groups to move ahead
  • heterogeneous groups to allow for students to teach other students and when a learning activity has room for multiple roles within a group
  • allow for student choice of material to reflect student background and interest (when appropriate)
  • give tons of feedback, verbal and written
  • try digital discussions to allow for students who are either quiet or not language proficient
  • encourage note-taking and encourage students being meta-cognitive with their note-taking!

Use differentiated strategies to assess

  • plan all assessments and rubrics well in advance (yearly is best)
  • at the beginning of each unit, pre-assess students and have each student establish his/her own learning target(s) or set of learning goals
  • work with an LSS Specialist to modify summative assessments (up or down)
  • have multiple summative assessments ready for use at the end of an instructional unit
  • allow students to either retest or make corrections (ie. learn from previous errors)
  • post exemplars and discuss with students
  • allow students the latitude to reflect upon their summative assessments