Thursday, April 19, 2012

Four Important Concepts of Differentiation

There are four important concepts that help shape a differentiated classroom. Consider all four as you think about differentiation in your classroom or school. They are:
  • Flexibility
The hallmark of a differentiated classroom is flexibility. Teachers skilled in differentiation must be flexible in their planning, flexible in how they structure groups, flexible in how they teach to various learning styles and modalities, and flexible in how fast or slow they proceed according to the individual learner. While flexibility is essential, it is also difficult because school systems prescribe the number of hours of instruction and the number of days in the school year or grading period. Some even stipulate the unit or pages of a textbook that must be covered within a given week.

Whatever the outside constraints, it is important to keep a flexible mind set. Try teaching in new ways. Give students multiple opportunities for learning. Be continuously creative in your teaching. This is all a part of flexibility.
  • Planning
All good teaching requires planning. This is certainly true in a differentiated classroom where you must look beyond the grade-level standards and curriculum and focus on the learning needs of each student. Without careful planning, learning time can be wasted or the classroom can quickly degenerate into chaos.

On the other hand, no teacher has unlimited planning time. Most teachers are stretched with all the obligations and duties that are part of teaching in today’s schools.
  • Resources
A differentiated curriculum requires many different resources. This may be quite a change if you have been using one text book, with every child on the same page. Most schools already have many resources that are appropriate for differentiated classrooms. Rediscover the books, workbooks, manipulatives, computer software, and reference materials in your classroom, book room, or file cabinets. Ask your self how you can use these materials to meet the needs of individuals or small groups of students.

Know what resources your school has. Often teachers have access to plenty of resources but need to spend time locating and organizing them and then choosing the ones that are appropriate to use. This is time well-spent and in the long run will save you planning time. Ask your school media specialist to help you find the resources you need for a differentiated unit or lesson. He or she is often your best human resource in locating other resources.

An excellent web site for locating many resources useful in differentiating curriculum and instruction is Log on to find resources in various categories, grade levels, and subject areas.
  • Choices
Learning activities in a differentiated classroom often involve student choices. These choices include products and performances based on learning styles, learning modalities, Bloom’s Taxonomy, or multiple intelligences. This does NOT mean giving students unstructured or unlimited choices. It DOES mean having a set of standards-based activities from which they can choose, at least some of the time.

A word of caution – some students think that having choices means they can do nothing if they so choose. Learning time is simply too valuable. The one choice you never have is the choice to do nothing!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What is Differentiated in the Differentiated Classroom?

When we talk about the differentiated classroom, we are referring to the many aspects of the teaching and learning process that may be differentiated – that is, the things that may be approached in different ways for the different students in your classroom. Four of the most important are:
  • Content
    • ideas, skills, knowledge, and information being studied
    • content is structured by state standards, district curriculum, guides, textbooks, and teacher-developed units of work
    • all students must learn content, but can learn it in different ways
  • Process
    • various ways students interact with and think about content
    • often defined by the different levels of bloom's taxonomy 
    • processes at the knowledge level may include: memorizing, reciting, defining, etc.
    • processes at the analysis level may include: compare/contrast, classifying, sub-dividing, etc.
  • Products/Performances
    • the multitude of ways students can demonstrate what they understand, know, and can do as a result of their learning
    • allowing for different products and performances is the first step to differentiation in the classroom
    • giving students product choices is motivational, accounts for learning styles, and creates variety 
  • Learning Environment
    • includes the classroom or learning space, how that space is used, available resources, and grouping patterns for students
    • students always sitting in assigned seats within rows is not optimal for differentiation
    • flexible grouping and seating along with a variety of resources invites differentiation

Friday, April 6, 2012

Differentiation can be based on:

  1. Acceleration - allows the student to study the material at a faster pace and/or a higher grade level than would normally be the case. Collaborating with another teacher at a higher grade level is one way to find information and resources to use in acceleration. The most difficult aspect in using this approach is that it requires vertical planning between teachers at different grade levels, something that can be a challenge to schedule and implement.
  2. Enrichment activities focus on studying areas or topics that are not included in the regular curriculum. These activities broaden students' knowledge and understanding on a wide range of subjects. Through exposure to enrichment activities, students may develop areas of interest or topics about which they previously knew little. Enrichment also allows students to explore current areas of interest in greater depth. This can lead to opportunities for investigations of real problems with links to the world outside of school.
  3. Extensions use the regular curriculum as a starting point and allow students to delve into a subject more deeply or look at aspects of the subject or unit of study that may not otherwise be considered. Extensions work particularly well with students who already know the basics or who complete the regular assignments quickly and need additional challenges.
  4. Remediation simply means that students have holes or gaps in their knowledge, skills, or learning that need to be patched before they can move on to more complex work. The assumption that all students begin the school year at the same starting point is a faulty one. Many times students lack the skills and knowledge to do the work their grade level requires. Finding out exactly what needs to be remediated for an individual student or for groups of students and then having a plan for accomplishing it is essential for student success in today's schools.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Philosophy of Differentiation

The Philosophy of Differentiation includes structuring classrooms so there are provisions for:
  1. Different ways to take in, work with, and learn information
  2. Differing amounts of time to complete work
  3. Different approaches due to language acquisition and cultural differences
  4. Different levels of thinking, readiness, and ability
  5. Different assignments for students in the same classroom
  6. Different means to assess what has been learned


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