Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tools for Differentiating Instruction - Part 1

The Next few posts will be about Tools for Differentiating Instruction.

The tools that teachers have at their disposal in today’s classrooms are much richer than the ones we recall our teachers using during our own schooling. We now know significantly more about the brain and how it works than we did just 20 years ago, and this increase in knowledge is producing new educational models and approaches at almost lightning speed. While these new trends may be exciting, with so many new ideas and directions to choose from, teachers often feel the stress of being asked to implement too many initiatives coming at any one given time. How can we possibly know which will really be effective and which are practical in the “real world?”

The next two posts will focus on several models or “tools” that have been proven to  work with students and with teachers. While there are certainly numerous other tools available, these have stood the test of time and have proven to be “doable” for most teachers.

-Tools for Differentiating Based on Student Readiness (Bloom's Taxonomy, Tomlinson's Equalizer, and concept-based teaching)
-Tools for Differentiating Based on A Student Learning Profile (Groupings, Gardner's Multiple Intelligences)

Keep in mind that, regardless of the tools that a teacher chooses to use, the goal in any classroom, differentiated or not, ought to be to aim high so that each and every student experiences an appropriate challenge. Given the fact that our students enter our classrooms with vastly different needs and readiness levels for learning, aiming high for all cannot mean the same instruction and work for all. This is, of course, why differentiation is a necessity in any classroom.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Resource Highlight!

Every now and then, I am going to highlight a product that I think is essential for differentiation in the classroom. Here is the first! Please let me know what you use in your classroom!

Successful Teaching in the Differentiated Classroom is a great resource by Carolyn Coil. Every teacher should own this book! Its a comprehensive guide, to do just that, GUIDE you through implementing and perfecting differentiation in your classroom.
Successful Teaching
Successful Teaching in the Differentiated Classroom
From the website description:
Coil presents the most comprehensive, practical resource you will need to successfully implement the concept of differentiation in your classroom. Following a brief overview of the components and a teacher self - assessment awareness checklist, are chapters with reproducibles, forms, and practical examples for administrators, teachers, students, and parents:
  • Flexible Grouping
  • Curriculum Compacting
  • Independent/Individualized Work - learning centers, resident experts, contracting, anchoring activities
  • Learning Profiles
  • Product Differentiation
  • Strategies: ILP™, Tic-Tac-Toe, Tiering, Encounter Lessons, Technology, Mentors, Mini-classes, Literature circles, Questivities™
  • Differentiated Assessment - rubrics, criteria cards, tiering
  • Special Groups
  • Special Needs
  • District and Schoolwide Planning
Use this resource in the school and college classroom, with professional learning communities, as a study group resource, and in staff development workshops. The CD includes customizable WORD files of forms and handouts for teacher and student. Written by Carolyn Coil.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Two Essential Questions in Differentiation:

What is "fair?"
Does fair always mean "the same?"

“Good afternoon," the receptionist greets you. “We’re preparing for your root canal.” “Oh no,” you quickly reply. “I’m just here to have my teeth cleaned!” “Well, I’m sorry but today is our root canal day. Everyone who comes in the office today gets a root canal. That’s only fair!”

It seems many people have the impression that ‘fair’ most assuredly means ‘the same.’ When needs are different, however, fairness has quite a different interpretation.

The idea of fairness is embedded deeply in our culture. Most people interpret being fair as doing the same thing in the same way for everyone. However, in a differentiated classroom being fair doesn’t always mean "the same." Fairness in school does not mean giving everyone the same assignment to complete within the same time period. Instead, it means looking at each student's needs and learning goals, and planning ways to meet those goals in a way that is most appropriate for that student.
You, your students, their parents, and the administrators at your school must all believe in this concept of fairness in order for differentiation to be successful. Because our students and their various learning needs are so different, the necessity for differentiation is obvious. All teachers would like to accommodate each child and meet the diverse needs they have. On a practical level, teachers look for workable strategies that can help them differentiate instruction in a variety of classroom settings.

There is no one magic strategy that works for every teacher in every school with every child. Successful Teaching in the Differentiated Classroom, by Carolyn Coil, focuses on specific practical strategies that you can use to differentiate the curriculum, instruction, and assessments in your classroom. Take a look at the book, decide which strategies and techniques will work best in your classroom with your students. 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Closing the Achievement Gap through Differentiated Instruction

It is difficult to see how differentiated instruction could be of benefit in low-performing schools or how it could help close the achievement gap. However, research done by Karin Chenoweth of the non-profit Achievement Alliance tells quite a different story. She spent two years looking at schools that are making AYP and getting great results under very difficult conditions. The high-poverty schools in her project are from all over the United States. Most perform at the same level or higher as the wealthiest schools in their area. While each of these schools has an individual success story, there are commonalities among them. Their successes come from:
  • Teaching using all of the senses, learning styles, and modalities
  • Thematic units that combine math, science, literature, history, geography, writing, and the arts
  • Integrating the arts into all aspects of the curriculum
  • Hands-on projects with differentiated products and performances
  • Pre-assessment, formative assessment, and data analysis that drives all aspects of instruction
  • Individualized instruction and work depending upon how each student learns
  • Flexible grouping based on skill levels and individual student needs
All of these are important elements of differentiated curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Looking at the successes of these schools, it would seem that differentiation is, indeed, a viable approach to closing the achievement gap.