Differentiate from a Distance! Meet the needs of each and every student with these strategies.6/8/2020 As the 2020/2021 school year approaches, teachers have a lot of questions about what it will look like. When we ask this question, it seems like all we hear is “We don’t know yet.” Since governors, district leaders and administrators don’t know what schools will look like next year, teachers are struggling to figure out how to prepare. In this blog series, we are looking at 10 ways that we can prepare this summer without wasting our time. Each way will prove beneficial to you, whether your district ends up using distance learning, traditional classrooms, or a hybrid education approach. Included in each blog post in this series will be tech tool suggestions, free resources, and a giveaway entry form. We have already talked about setting up your digital classroom, exploring technology tools, exploring both digital and paper formats for teaching resources, building up a communication system for parents, digging deep into your standards, making prerecorded teaching videos and having a classroom management strategy prepared. Today we will discuss something else all teachers should do to prepare for next school year: You can consider differentiation options. Differentiation was a very challenging part of distance learning. At my school, we used Google Meet for our live lessons, and there were few ways to have each student working at their own pace. However, all of my students still had individual learning needs. One way that I was able to provide differentiation was with a ToDo list. I presented a list of possible math problems. Students start at the top of the list (with the easiest problem) and then work their way down as they get each problem correct. (I presented the list on Google Meet and then watched their work using Whiteboard.fi.) This allowed my quick finishers to move on to harder problems and I could attempt to support my struggling students with guiding suggestions. Since I couldn't pull those struggling students into a "small group" like I would in class, I would then create a video mini lesson on any topic that I saw them struggling with and post it onto Google Classroom. This tweaked version of the ToDo List differentiation strategy (which I used in my brick and mortar classroom regularly) worked well in a distance learning environment. Another differentiation strategy that works well with distance learning is tiered assignments. In my math lessons, all students were working on similar problems, but at a range of difficulties. I generally had 3 or 4 different problems. Students are told ahead of time which level they should work on. All students worked on the 1 problem that was closest to their level. Then we reviewed all of the problems as a whole class, so all students could benefit from the review. This could be done with reading comprehension questions as well. How else could differentiation look in a distance learning environment? Some of that will depend on your particular school's rules and expectations. We weren't allowed to do breakout groups because of technology issues and equity concerns, but small group instruction might be a differentiation strategy that works really well at your school. No matter what, differentiation needs to be at the forefront of our mind. I suggestion looking at the different strategies that I line out in 10 Differentiation Strategies  How and Why to Use Them, and asking yourself: "Is this something I could tweak to work in a digital environment?" and "How can this work if I need to go back and forth between bricks and mortar and distance learning?" FREE Resources for Your Classroom As you take some time to think about differentiation, here are some free resources which may help you out: Subtraction with Regrouping Tiered Activity  This activity gives you 3 leveled sheets for subtraction with regrouping, as well as a quiz for pre and post testing students. Shape Words Self Correcting Puzzles  This puzzle allows students to work on reading shape words. They know automatically if they have the correct answer because each word only fits with one picture. Once students have used this puzzle at least once, give them a set amount of time to see how many they can match. (Different groups can have different amounts of time.) The Tortoise and the Hare Fable Response Packet  This packet has multiple pages at multiple levels. All of your students can read the same fable, while filling out different pages in a form of jigsaw differentiation. June Digital Learning Resource Bundle Giveaway Now time for our giveaway!!! With today's giveaway entry form, you will be entering to win my 2nd Grade Internet Scavenger Hunt Bundle. This bundle includes: 8 different internet scavenger hunts. Each scavenger hunt comes with 4 different formats: .doc format that allows students to type on them, a .pdf that allows students to click the links, a QR code version that allows students to scan QR codes and a Google Classroom version that includes a Google Doc and a Google Form. Enter to win this Internet Scavenger Hunt Bundle, by completing the the June Giveaway Entry Form #8. All winners will be chosen on July 1st. Winners will receive the bundle directly to the provided email. All those who enter will also receive my monthly Raki's Rad Resources News Releases. Interested in more tips on how to prepare for the unpreparable 2020/2021 school year? Come back tomorrow for tip #9! Missed a day? This blog post contains the entire list of 10 Things You Can Do to Prepare for Next School year.
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As we approach the beginning of the new school year, I started thinking about which differentiated instructional strategies I wanted to be sure to implement this year. Because in my classroom, it's which combination of differentiated strategies for ell or differentiated strategies for gifted will be used. It's never "Should I differentiate this year?" I started to think about writing a blog post to share some of what I was going to do and realized that I had never migrated my main differentiated instructional strategies blog post from my old blogspot blog over here to the new and improved blog. So here is a blog post that was originally posted in 2015, but still stands true to my educational philosophy. It will provide you with the reasoning behind why all teachers should use differentiated instructional strategies, give you 10 different differentiated instructional strategies with real world applications and give you some resources that can be used in your classroom as the new school year begins. Beware that this is a long post, so you may want to bookmark it to come back and read or revisit it as you get busy with the school year. You are also welcome to share it with your teammates as the new school year begins! How does differentiated instruction benefit students? Recently I read an article that said that many teachers believe that differentiated instruction is just a catch phrase or a passing phase of education. Many believe that it’s not something that can or will actually get done in the classroom. There are many catch phrases and passing phases in education, but I don’t believe and I sincerely hope that differentiated instruction is not one of these because I have seen it work in my classroom. Differentiated instruction is the best chance to give each child what they need. In a classroom of 20 or 30 kids, differentiation is hard work, and we may not always succeed at using differentiated instructional strategies 100% of the time. But I honestly believe that all teachers Kindergarten through 12th grade and beyond should be trying their hardest to differentiate each and every lesson that they teach, because each and every student deserves to have an education that meets their needs. No teacher has the ability to sit one on one with each and every student for the entire school day and meet the needs of each student, but we do have the ability to differentiate in many different ways so that we are getting at least closer to our goal. The idea is to walk into each and every lesson saying how can I get very close to meeting the needs of ALL of my students, no matter what their level.Now I’ve taught in real classrooms with students who are easily 2 grade levels apart or more in ability. I’ve taught in classrooms with high percentages of English language learners. I’ve taught in classrooms with special education populations. I’ve taught in first grade classrooms, third grade classrooms and mixed age classrooms that had students ranging from 2nd through 5th grade. I even taught technology to K – 5 students. In each and every classroom I’ve ever worked in I have used differentiated instructional strategies to help my students. I understand that differentiated instruction can be extremely intimidating, so if you’ve never differentiated your classroom before, choose one section of the day to differentiate at first. This will allow you to put a toe into the differentiation pool without jumping in all together. Then as it becomes more natural for you, let it flow into your other subjects, sections, classes, etc. However, stepping into differentiation, into giving students what they need as an individual learner, will change your teaching and more importantly your students’ learning. What does differentiated instruction look like in the classroom? Realistically differentiated instruction can and should take place in many different ways. For me it often looked different depending on the subject. In reading it often looked like differentiated instruction grouping via guided reading, literature circles and student peer reading. In spelling it often looked like a tiered assignment through leveled lists. In math it often looked like ad hoc groups based on a biweekly assessment. In science and social students I often use jigsawing, student selected topics and tiered questioning. In technology I use teacher selected peertutors. Today I will give you ten differentiated instructional strategies that I have used and that will help you better meet the needs of your students. For each strategy, I will show you how it might look in your classroom and what subjects you can use it with. I will also give you some additional suggestions for implementation. However, I must stress that before you can begin to use differentiated instructional strategies, you first need to identify the needs of your students through assessments, conferences, observations and just generally getting to know your students. 1.) Tiered or Leveled Assignments What is it? Tiered assignments consist of the same general assignment with a variety of levels. You can offer your assignment in as many different ways as you want. I generally try for 3 or 4 levels and put the kids in the closest level to their true level because making the 7 or 8 levels that I truly have is generally not feasible. Tiering means that all of the students in your class are doing the same thing – practicing spelling words, doing puzzles, learning problem solving, etc. However the problem set, the word list, the type of puzzle, or the depth of the topic is what is differentiated. What subjects is it best for? Tiering can work in any subject or grade level. It works best with assignments that have a specific process that students should be doing like problem solving or working on a spelling pattern or analyzing informational articles. Tiering works best when the content can be changed easily, without changing the process. What will it look like? The teacher will give the same general instructions to everyone. Then students will receive different materials. These materials can be completed individually, with a partner, or in small groups, depending on what you as a teacher want. If students are to work with others, be sure that the students know who else has the same materials as they do. This might mean that students with the same materials work in the same area of the classroom or it might mean that their materials are color coded so that they can see who has the same material as they do. Here's a real life example from my classroom: When I was teaching a multigrade math lesson on angles, I asked all of my students to go on an angle scavenger hunt. Each group was given an iPad and asked to take pictures of a specific type of angle that they found around the school. The 2nd graders were asked to find right angles. The 3rd graders were asked to find acute angles. The 4th graders were asked to find obtuse angles. The 5th graders were asked to find reflex angles. What resources might help me with this? Calendar books allow students to have the same cover with different work pages. Students all work on their calendar books for twenty minutes a day. They all work on math concepts, but the actual math concepts that they work on can be differentiated to eight different levels. Spelling and vocabulary packets allow students to all work on the same spelling pattern each week with four different levels of word lists. The activities for each of the levels are similar, but progressively more challenging. 2.) SemiPermanent Grouping What is it? Differentiated groups that can work together for long periods of time are semipermanent groupings. Students might work in these groups with you or by themselves. Groups can consist of students who are all the same level so that they can work on the same skills together. Or groups can consist of students who are working at a low, middle and high level so that they can work together on a problem with some students guiding others through the activity. These groups are labeled as semipermanent because they can and should change as the need arises, either for academic or social reasons. Teachers should track how groups are doing together and change groups accordingly. What subjects is it best for? Guided reading groups are of course the first thing that comes to mind when we think of semipermanent grouping, and literature circles can also be classified this way as well. However, semipermanent groups can be used any time students will be working on the same or similar types of activities over a long period of time. Groups that are done homogenously with time to meet with the teacher are great for specific skills that take a long time to build like reading comprehension, the writing process, math problem solving, the scientific method and using geography. What will it look like? The entire class can be broken into semipermanent groups that are all meeting at the same time. Or one group may be meeting, either on their own or with a teacher, while the other students are working on a completely different assignment. For example, I often pull my guided reading groups while the other students worked at their own pace through a list of assignments. Students who are called to my table leave what they were doing, come to me and work until we were done and then return and pick up where they left off once we are finished. Other teachers like for students to move with their semipermanent groups through a series of activities like centers or workstations, switching at assigned times. What resources might help me with this? Students in semipermanent groups can work together on any variety of novel studies. All of the students in your class can be working on novel studies at the same time if you wish, but each semipermanent group can work on a different novel that is appropriate to their reading level or interest. Students can work in semipermanent groups to complete internet scavenger hunts to work on internet research as well as science and social studies topics. 3.) Ad Hoc Groupings What is it? Ad hoc groups work together for short period of times. Students might work in these groups with you or by themselves. These groups generally consist of students who are all the same level so that they can work on the same skills together. Every once in awhile you might want groups can consist of low, middle and high level students show that they can work together on a problem with some students guiding other students. These groups are ad hoc because they change quickly and may only meet for one class period or less. Teachers can remove students from an ad hoc group as soon as the students have mastered the concept or completed the activity. What subjects is it best for? Any topic that has specific skills that might need to be reviewed or previewed with a specific group of students is a great topic for ad hoc groups. Ad hoc groups are generally formed after an assessment, grouping together students who need to work on a specific skill together. If you are using ad hoc groups to preview a topic, then you would pull students who generally need more assistance. For example, you might use this to provide differentiated instruction for ELL students. You could pull them together and preteach them the vocabulary for the unit before the entire class begins the unit. This gives them a little additional time to process the information, as well as helping them to be prepared to handle harder work when it begins. What will it look like? The majority of the class works on an independent work assignment or practice activity while the teacher pulls an ad hoc group to work on a specific skill. The teacher works with the group until she feels they have a good enough grasp of the concept to leave the group. Students may all leave the group at once or the teacher might release students one at a time. Once the student is done with one ad hoc group, she might pull another ad hoc group. Some of the students from the first ad hoc group might be in the second ad hoc group as well. Here's a real life example from my classroom: I take all of my assessments – usually a biweekly math quiz – and compile a list of each skill covered. Next to each skill I make a list of the students that needed to review each of these skills. These groups became my ad hoc groups that I met with during the next few classes. I worked with the groups until I felt like everyone had a good grasp of the skills, and then we moved on to the next set of skills. While I was working with ad hoc groups, the remainder of my class worked on Problem Solving Path and Tiling Puzzles, so they continued to be engaged in work on math skills that were appropriate to their level even if they weren’t working with me. What resources might help me with this? The work that students are doing with their ad hoc groups is generally teacher led and linked directly to an activity that is already done or already planned. So the larger concern for teachers is “what is everyone else doing?” The following resources provide quality, engaging work that students can do independently while you are working with ad hoc groups: Math Problem Solving Path Tiling Puzzles Reading Reading Response Journal Reading Logs Language Arts Writing Journals Spelling & Vocabulary Packets Science & Social Studies Internet Scavenger Hunts Vocabulary Graphs 4.) Teacher Selected Peer Pairs, Peer Tutoring or Peer Groups What is it? Students work together in pairs or small groups, helping each other through activities. Teachers choose the groupings, purposefully putting higher level students with lower level students. The students help each other while the teacher floats and helps the groups that get stuck. What subjects is it best for? Peer tutors works best when you have a class where about half of the class understands the concept and the rest of the class is either confused or just not quite there yet. Peer tutoring and peer groups work best on small, specific topics, not big general subjects. What will it look like? The teacher will create the groups and assign the activity whole group. Students will be assigned to work on a very specific problem or activity related to their topic. The pairs or small groups will then break apart and work together on the assignment. The teacher will circulate and help where she is needed. My favorite way to use this in my classroom was to assign writing prompts to work on specific types of skills like writing a solid introduction or using clear and concise details. I give a prompt at the beginning of class and specifically tell the students that everyone in the group MUST contribute to the prompt in order for it to be successful. If I see a group struggling, I would often guide my higher students by asking them to explain to their friends how they came up with their ideas. This often got students in the habit of explaining their thinking for the benefit of themselves and others. Two notes on using peer tutors: #1 Do not use the same peer tutor groups all the time. One student should never feel responsible for the complete education of another. They should be helping one another, not being their one and only teacher. #2 Try not to label your students as tutors and tutees to the children. They don’t need to be told who the stronger student is, and framing this activity this way will bring about confidence issues. Instead, frame this activity as students working together on an activity and sit back and watch the students learn from one another. What resources might help me with this? Students can work together on any topic that they need help on. Here are a few resources that work well when working in pairs: Math Projects Grammar Quizzes Area and Perimeter Worksheet Story Elements Bookmarks 5.) Collaborative Learning Groups in the form of: Jigsaw, Inside Outside Circle, Think Pair Share What is it? Students either do independent research on a topic or share what they already know on a topic to the rest of the class. This is accomplished by splitting the class into randomized groups. Each group presents to another group or the entire class so that by the end of the class everyone knows what each individual in the class knows. What subjects is it best for? Personally, I like to use collaborative learning groups to break up a large topic into much smaller topics where each student or group becomes an expert on that smaller topic and shares their knowledge with the rest of the class. This type of collaborative learning works best with science, social studies and health topics where students need to learn about facts and concepts. However, these collaborative learning groups can also be used to report out about books read, to share math strategies or to check for understanding after watching a video or listening to a lecture. What will it look like? Jigsaw – The teacher will break the class into a set number of groups. The groups will get together to gather or put together their knowledge by answering questions or preparing a short presentation on a small section of a larger topic. This may happen over several class periods. Then, on one predetermined day the class will jigsaw. Half of each group will stay at their designated table while the other half of their group circulates in a structured way visiting each other group. While visiting, the group that stayed will present their information from their small section to the students that are visiting them. Ideally the visiting students will record this information on a graphic organizer or in a notebook. Then halfway through class the students will switch places. Those who were visiting will becoming sitting presenters and the sitting presenters will become visitors until all students have visited all groups. Inside Outside Circle – Before beginning, the students will prepare a short thirty second presentation on their tiny piece of a larger topic. This many happen over several class periods. Then, on one predetermined day the class will circle. The class will stand in two circles, one inside the other. The inside circle faces out and the outside circle faces in so that students in each circle are facing each other. At that time the inside students have 30 seconds to present. Next the outside students have 30 seconds to present. Then the students each move one student to the right and repeat the process until everyone on the inside circle has talked to everyone on the outside circle. Note that with this strategy everyone does not talk to each other student so it is okay to have some overlap of topics covered. ThinkPairShare – This strategy is most often used during lectures to give students a chance to digest what is being discussed. However, it could easily be turned into ResearchPairShare if you want to do it more as a differentiated learning activity. In this way each pair of students has a question to answer. Each pair might have a different question or they could be looking at different possibilities to answer the same question. They research (or think of) the answer independently. Then they are allotted time to talk about it with one partner. Finally each group shares a quick summary of what they learned with the class. What resources might help me with this? For me collaborative learning is best if connected to a larger research project. So I might have students research, collaborate to build understanding and then create their project after the collaboration when they have more knowledge. Here are a few projects I have used collaborative learning with: Important Americans Project Rock Project African Folktales Project 6.) Projects with Choices What is it? Students complete a project on a topic that the class is learning about, but within the project they have choices. They might be able to choose their subtopic. They might be able to choose the types of information they want to gather. They might be able to choose how they will present their information. Or they might be able to choose a combination of those things (like in a RAFT situation). The general idea of projects is that students are given autonomy and an opportunity to take ownership over their learning, while still keeping them within a general framework of the standards that must be covered. What subjects is it best for? Science and social studies are obvious subjects for projects, but math projects can contain a lot of choices as well. In my Party Planner Math project students choose their own theme, their recipes, their guest list, their venue and decorate their own invitation. Within literature, students can have a lot of choice about how they present the information in books they read. Really projects can be used for any subject at any grade level as long as teachers take the time to make sure that the project is appropriate for the students. What will it look like? Projects can be handled in many ways. Students might be allotted half or all of the class periods for a certain number of days while everyone works on their projects at the same time. Or students might work on their projects as independent work when other class work is completed. Or students might work on their projects independently as a teacher works with semipermanent or ad hoc groups. Personally I like to start out the year with students all working on their projects at the same time while I circulate to assist. But as the year goes on and students build an understanding of how to do research, how to work independently and what my expectations are, I use projects as independent work while I work with groups. And by the end of the year I add projects to the end of my students’ to do lists so that they have additional time to work on their projects as soon as they complete assigned work. This means if you come into my classroom in March it is fair game to see me working with a group of 3 or 4 students while other students work on textbook pages or a classroom assignment and the students who are done with those, but not needed by me are independently working on projects. What resources might help me with this? There are so many possibilities for projects. Here are a few I have available: Math Projects Biography Project Country Study Project Important Americans Project Earth’s Minerals Project 7.) Choice Boards What is it? Choice boards are a grid or list that gives students options for how they will conquer a task. Generally students will all work on the same standard, the same topic and the same questions, but will present or explore the information differently depending on their choice off of the choice board. What subjects is it best for? Choice boards work great when you want students to work with material in their own way. They are great for giving options on presenting, but choices can also be given for how are you going to intake the material or how are you going to explore the material. For example if you are learning about Ancient Rome, students could have a choice between reading the chapters in the textbook, watching a designated list of videos, or researching the answers to specific questions. No matter which method the student chooses, they will learn the important information, but the choice lets them pick the way that they are most comfortable with. Or if students are learning about algebraic equations, they might get to choose between creating practice equations for a friend or creating a song to explain how to solve an equation or creating a Venn Diagram to compare and contrast equations and inequalities or writing a short essay on the topic. What will it look like? Using choice boards will look different depending on whether you are using them at the receiving information stage, the exploring information stage or the presenting information stage. At the receiving information stage, students will be given their options at the beginning of the lesson. They will choose one and the teacher should be clear that whatever they choose they will be required to stick with. They may choose something else next time, but for today once chosen they can’t change. This cuts down on time wasted. Once they choose, they will be given an allotted amount of time to gather their information, taking notes along the way. Notes may be taken in a graphic organizer or any other note taking system that students are already familiar with. Once the allotted time is complete – be sure to give students enough time to find the information noting that it might take more time than giving a lecture, but students will remember more if they find it themselves – come back together as a class. Ask various students to briefly share out what they found, or use one of the collaborative learning exercises from earlier. At the exploring information stage, students will receive their information in the same way, whether from you, from a video or from their own research. Then they will take the information and manipulate it, turn it around in their head and shape it like virtual playdoh. In this way, students are building understanding. So for an allotted amount of class time, students will be asked to work independently on a choice from the choice board. Your classroom will look similar to if they were all working on the same assignment, but because of the choices students will be building their own connections. A powerful example of this for me was interactive math notebook reflections. Students have five options of the way they can reflect on what we have covered in our math mini lesson and math reference page. Each student chooses the one that means the most to them. My artistic students often chose to design posters. My analytical ones chose to create diagrams. My writers chose to do a paragraph. My logistical students created practice problems. Everyone was working on the same topic. Everyone was learning. Everyone was building individualized knowledge. At the presenting information stage, students have built up knowledge in a topic until they are ready to present that knowledge to the class. When they are ready to present, they are given choices as to how they will do that. Some students love to stand in front of the class, but many don’t, so give them options. Can they create a video? Can they create a podcast? Can they create a piece of art? Can they write a story or a song? Can they create an interactive poster? There are so many ways to present information. What resources might help me with this? Many of my projects have built in presentation choice boards or lists including: Historical Figures Project Black History Project Matrix Country Study Project Additionally all of my Math Interactive Notebook lessons include exploration/reflection choices. 8.) Student Paced Learning (ToDo Lists) What is it? In student paced learning, students work at their own pace through a list of set activities. They spend more time on the items that are difficult for them and less time on the items that aren’t, rather than waiting on others to be finished before they can move on. What subjects is it best for? While I generally used student paced learning in literacy based areas, it can be done in any subject area. The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast recently featured a teacher using student paced learning in a middle school math class. Students could also work their way through European history or the Periodic table on their own if given the correct supports. What will it look like? This is one that is going to look very different depending on the class and the level. In my intermediate elementary grades classroom, student paced learning looked like a list of things that had to be done for the day or the week. Students check them off as they complete them. The list always includes open ended items at the end like projects, puzzles and independent reading so that I rarely hear “I’m finished!” With older students the list might be all of the lessons for a month or a school year that students work through at their own pace while you are there to answer questions, assist, guide through problems, give small group tutorials, etc. Overall the thing to remember is that student paced learning does not mean learning without the teacher. It means that the teacher provides the student with materials – in written, audio or video format – ahead of time so that students can work through it at their own pace. It also means that you have taught them what to do when they get stuck. Student paced learning takes a lot of important “front end” work. Teachers prepare the materials and teach students the structure at the beginning, which means that the first few weeks of school you are teaching hard and heavy. But once students get the structure and the flow, you get to step back and be the guide on the side. You have time to give students one on one or small group instruction on what they need when they need it. You have the chance to let your students take control of their own learning. What resources might help me with this? Pretty much any kind of learning can be preloaded, it’s just a matter of taking the time to preteach it. However it is easy when things are already copied, bound and ready for the entire year. So I suggest choosing systems that last all year long so that you don’t have to reteach all of that important preteaching. Here are some year long systems that might help: Country Study Project Reading Journals Writing Journals Tiling Puzzles Problem Solving Path Self Correcting Puzzles (for Primary Grades) Internet Scavenger Hunts 9.) Let Students Be the Teacher What is it? When we teach, we learn. So letting students be the teacher is a great way for them to cement their own understandings on a topic. Using this strategy, students might actually stand in front of the class and teach, or they might create a video to teach others about a topic they have learned about. But however they are teaching, they will teach in their own individualized way and learn as much as they are teaching. What subjects is it best for? Teachers teach every subject, why can’t students? However, I do generally try to limit students to a narrow topic for each individual lesson they are going to teach, as students can choose broad, wide ranging topics without realizing how much work is really entailed. What will it look like? Students should plan out their lesson ahead of time. The lesson plan is more important than the delivery of the lesson, because this is the time when they are getting their information in order and making sure they actually understand what they think they understand. Time for this planning should be set aside in class. Your classroom will look similar to if they were all working on an independent work activity, but in reality they are solidifying their learning while they plan this lesson. One of the things they will plan is how they will teach the lesson. Will they stand up front and lecture? Will they create a video? Will they create a series of fun activities? Will they create a game? Will they make a student paced project? Once the planning is complete, this will look like any other project. Students will plan out their work, they will create their presentation or their game or their manipulatives and then on a designated time, they will teach the rest of the class their lesson. You may want to give students a set amount of time that they may have to teach their lesson in order to have enough time for everyone in the class to teach. Or you may want to have students teach their lessons as they complete them in a student paced type of system. As long as they have time to teach, the differentiated instruction has begun. What resources might help me with this? With my students I have created video lessons and vocabulary games to teach others about topics: Tutorial Video Planning Sheets Vocabulary Game Planning Sheet 10.) Student Led Inquiries/ Passion Projects What is it? Student led inquires are a chance for students to follow their own thought processes and find answers to their own questions. What subjects is it best for? If your subject is one that students can use in a real world application, we hope that they have real world questions about your subject that might be answered. For some students it might be as simple as “When am I going to use Physics in my real life?” to start out with. But then as time goes on it might be “How do I use Newton’s laws when I’m designing my own rollercoaster?” or “I wonder how much force a car would have to have to push over a stop sign?” The idea of an inquiry is to get students answering their own questions, so inquiry can be worked into any subject. What will it look like? Inquiries can have a wide range. Some inquiries will be similar to Genius Hour, 20% Time or Passion Projects where students choose their own topic, their own questions and their own presentation or project on any topic that suits them from writing poetry to learning sign language to developing a website. These type of inquiries are great for Language Arts classes because students are reading and writing and researching and covering all of your standards. But what about Math and Science and Social Studies? For those classes, you might need to be more specific about what kind of questions you want them to have. Here's a real life example from my classroom: During a unit on heat, I asked students to come up with a list of questions they had about heat. The students brainstormed about 30 questions total, which we listed on the board. Then the students, who were broken into groups of two and three, chose a questions and worked on answering it. The questions ranged from "How do you make a fire?" to "Why does a refrigerator get hot if it’s making things cold?" to "How do you build a blowtorch?" While students were doing their research, they learned about ignition, combustion, conduction, convection, insulation, the movement of heat particles, and much more. I didn’t lecture about it, they wanted to know about it, they went and found it out and then they taught the rest of the class what they learned. And they covered all of my standards. The same could be done in other subjects. Ask math students for questions about coordinate graphs or algebraic equations or balancing a checkbook. Ask history students for questions about Ancient Greece or the Middle East or Victorian England. Ask literature students for questions about Shakespeare or Charles Dickens or haiku poetry. Ask music students for questions about instruments or famous musicians. This one works for everything! What resources might help me with this? Create Your Own Cookie Inquiry Great Plant Experiment As you can see from my descriptions, I often use multiple differentiated instructional strategies together to form a truly differentiated classroom. If that seems like too much for you, choose one strategy and try it out in one specific section of your day. Then slowly add more strategies and more class periods as you are comfortable. Happy teaching! This post originally appeared at: http://rakisradresources.blogspot.com/2015/12/differentiatedinstructionhowwhyand.html
At the beginning of the school year, most teachers spend the first two days on ice breaker games and getting to know you questions. Then they jump into curriculum and forget that getting to know our students is the key to teaching. Getting to know our students is a key to building positive relations and to being able to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of each student. The more we know about our students, the better we can fit our instruction to their levels, their interests, their background knowledge and their needs. Fitting our instruction to our students  instead of trying to force our students to fit into our instruction allows us to make more of an impact on our students' education and on their lives. There are so many ways to get to know your students better, not just at the beginning of the year, but all year long. Here are the 10 getting to know you strategies I use every year: 1.) Have conversations with the students and their parents. Especially at the beginning of the year, it's important to start conversations and to listen when the kiddos and their parents tell you stories about their life or giving you little snipets of information. Sometimes these pieces of information will be the key to helping you know how to help your students succeed. 2.) Get to know your students' goals. This year I started out the year with my Long Term Goals Sheet, where I asked students to work with their parents and think about where they want to be in 5 years, in 10 years, in 20 years, in 30 years. It was a great way to get to know my students on a new and different level. Hearing their college and career aspirations made each of these students so much more real to me. Now the student who wants to fix computers is a "tech support helper" who I have introduced to code.org and the student who wants to travel to multiple countries is reading books about those countries and studying French on Duolingo.com. Knowing who the students want to be when they are an adult, even if they're only in 3rd grade now, allows me to break into their interest levels in a completely different way. 3.) Read their writing. The way that a student responds to a writing prompt says so much about the student. For example my students are currently writing narrative stories about a picture of a girl falling off of a swing. The stories I got range from a first person narrative where the main character helps a girl who falls off a swing and wins an instant friend; to a story where aliens were purposely breaking the swing each time the main character sits on it. In between, I also got a story where the main character's mother fell in love with the doctor who helped her and one story where the girl was pushed on purpose and the pusher got a large punishment. Reading each of these stories with my students helped me to better understand their background knowledge and their viewpoint as well as their writing ability. I often use my Genre Writing Journals as a way to give the entire class the same prompt. 4.) Ask students to visualize stories. Last year I demonstrated to my students how much background knowledge plays a part in the pictures they visualize. I read them two stories that I wrote, which were almost identical, about families that were having dinner. One story took place in Morocco where the family was eating couscous. The other story took place in New Mexico where the family was eating enchiladas. While I read each story, the students drew pictures of what they were visualizing. Then we looked at photographs of a family in Morocco eating couscous and a family in New Mexico eating enchiladas. The pictures the students drew of the family in New Mexico (where we live) were very close to photograph we looked at, but the ones they drew of the family in Morocco were not close at all. Background knowledge affects what we can visualize. So as often as possible let students draw pictures of the stories they read. How they visualize the story will sometimes surprise you, but will often give you good information about their own background! 5.) Use turn and talks about their home life. Morning meetings are a great way to get to know your students. Often during morning meetings I will ask students to turn and talk to a neighbor about a topic, what they did over the weekend, their favorite food, the pets they own, a time they were scared, etc. etc. Then I let the students report out about what their friends told them. You get interesting information about both students this way, because what the person reporting hears as important is often something that relates to their own life! 6.) Allow time for Genius Projects or Passion Projects. Ask your students "If you could learn about anything, what would it be?" Their answers will be telling enough, but then give the students time to plan out and work on genius projects. Watching them work on these projects will tell you a lot about their commitment, their work ethic and their interest level. Genius projects in my room often lead to new read alouds, writing prompts, math scenarios and science experiments because I know better what will connect to my students' learning. 7.) Find Vocabulary Connections. One of my favorite ways to get to know my kiddos background knowledge is to discuss vocabulary with them. When I ask them for a definition or sentence for a vocabulary word, their background knowledge comes spilling out. Hut is a great word for this. Most students will tell me "Oh, like Pizza Hut", a few will say "Like the little houses in Africa", but my favorite was the one student who told me you mean like "hut, hut, hut in football?". Background knowledge, it just spills out, doesn't it? You might want to use my vocabulary graphs as a basis for some of your vocabulary conversations, the connections students make are great. 8.) Challenge students to an activity that you think may frustrate them. Watching students be frustrated can be an eye opener. It's always interesting to me to see "smart" kids hit a brick wall with something new and difficult, while kids who struggle often spend a lot of time trying to get to the answer before they give up because they are used to the struggle. Not only do frustration triggers tell us a lot about students, but watching students handle those frustrations tell us a lot about students. Once we know where students get frustrated and how they handle frustrations, we can better help students manage frustrations. We will also know how and when to support students so that they can either avoid certain frustrations or deal better with frustrations when they happen. 9.) Monitor group work. Students often work differently in a group than they do independently. Some students will automatically lead, some will automatically follow, some are peacemakers and some will respond negatively to other students. As you walk around and monitor your groups you will see how students react to each other. Then, mix up the groups and watch again because students often respond differently to different group dynamics differently. 10.) Incorporate activities that are not "normal" school subjects. Recess, PE, art, music, computer skills, cooking, sewing, nature skills  anytime that I incorporate these things into my lessons I see a completely different side of my kids. Students who often struggle will come out of their shell during a cooking lesson or run faster in the race than anyone else. Students who are the top of the class often get frustrated or scared to try new things. These activities remind us to think about our students as a "whole person" instead of just as a student.
Differentiation is a key part of teaching, no matter what type of school you teach in. Normally when we discuss differentiation, we discuss ways to meet the needs of our low achieving students who have deficits or gaps that need to be met. The high achieving students, who are doing well already, are rarely differentiated for unless they become a behavior issue due to boredom. Unfortunately this often means that students who are doing well often never meet their full potential. This is particularly true in lower income or lower achieving schools or classrooms where there are more low achieving students than high achieving ones.
Every student in your classroom has a right to be pushed to their full potential, no matter their level. As a teacher though, there are only so many hours in a day, so how do we differentiate for our highest achieving students? Here are ten strategies to help you meet those students' needs: 1.) Allow students time to work on their individual deficits, even if they aren't academic. High achieving students are NOT great at everything. Even your best student will have weaker areas. For some students it is handwriting or spelling. For other students it is social skills or athletic ability. When they have finished their work, give them additional time to work on these weaker areas. Students might be given additional time to practice cursive writing or they may use the internet to research different ways to stay physically fit. Allow students to weigh in on where they are weak and encourage them to to use their time to help fill in these gaps for themselves. 2.) Let students expand out instead of up. If a student is doing very well on 2nd grade standards, it is often the case that we go ahead and give them 3rd grade standards. While this is an okay strategy, often there is more that can be done within their own standards if we allow students to dig deeper. For example, it is tempting to move students who have mastered addition with regrouping problems into multiplication. But is there more they can do with addition with regrouping? Can they develop their own word problems with this skill? Can they complete error analysis on problems completed incorrectly? (Some error analysis problems like this can be found in my Addition with Regrouping Tiered Activities at the Fix it Level.) Can they create a video teaching others how to solve problems like this? (You can find a Video Creation Planning Sheet and Rubric at my Teachers Pay Teachers store.) This is also true with reading. Often we push students to read harder and harder books because they can. While reading new books is wonderful, students often run into books with more grown up situations than they are ready for. Students can learn about new vocabulary and new ideas from reading additional books on their own grade level as well, or by digging deeper into the books the entire class is reading. Perhaps that student can do an author study and read additional books from the author of the book you are reading in class. Perhaps that students can be a topic and read multiple books about that topic. Students might be encouraged to do a selfguided novel study using my Student Selected Novel Study Packet on a novel that is really interesting to them. 3.) Allow students a chance to teach. Some students really enjoy being peer tutors. Others do not. However giving students a chance to teach others will expand their own thinking and memory of a topic. We remember 95% of what we teach. For students who do not want to be a peer tutor in person, they can easily create video tutorials, using my Video Creation Planning Sheet. Either way the process of teaching will help students further process their learning. 4.) Give early finishers ongoing projects to work on. Often high achieving students become the "I'm done." students. They finish work quickly and then become bored. Or because they know they will finish early, they become distracted and socialize instead of putting forth their best effort. Alternatively, some will rush through things because they are used to being done early and having time to chill. Having ongoing projects can help alleviate these behaviors by making sure students are always busy with quality activities. Some projects from my Teachers Pay Teachers store that work well for this are:  Mystery Book Reports  Informational Trade Book  Book Reports  Country Study Reports  Math Projects  Biography Projects  Self Selected Book Studies  Fiction or Nonfiction 5.) Use technology to develop a PLC for students. Just like teachers need to connect with other teachers, students need to connect with other students. High achieiving students often have few peers in their school who are on the same level as them. As a teacher, you can allow students to connect with other high achieving students around the world using websites like Edmodo. Students may also connect with adults in a field of interest for them. For example a student who is very interested in science, may contact a scientist at the local college. Once students have made an initial connection, they may write penpal letters or emails with these people, giving them a chance to interact with someone who will push their brain to new levels. 6.) Provide puzzles and brain teasers. Higher achieving students often enjoy solving a puzzle that seems unsolveable. Puzzles and brain teasers challenge their brains to process at a higher level than normal school activities. Of course puzzles and brain teasers are great for all students, so I usually call them "early finisher activities", leaving these activities open to everyone, but accessed mainly by my high achieving students. Some of my favorite puzzles are my Math Tiling Puzzles, which work on basic math standards, but take it to a higher level of understanding. 7.) Allow time for community outreach. Social skills are often one of the hardest skills for our highest achieving students. One of the best ways to encourage social skills like empathy and compassion is to encourage students to work in the community. Within the classroom, this could be as simple as a letter writing campaign to soldiers or children who are in the hospital. Or students could leave larger community outreach projects like food and clothing drives for the needy. 8.) Give time for individual interest projects. Genius projects or passion projects are a great way to allow students to truly pursue their own interests while still building on their literacy skills. While these projects are great for all students, high achieving students will be able to dig the deepest. These students may also use these projects as an "early finisher" activity. The great part about individual interest projects is that they can be completely individualized. Students can learn another language. They can learn how to design a YouTube channel. They can study fashion design. They can literally study any topic that is interesting to them. 9.) Keep expectations high, but achievable. Be careful when working with your high achieving students to not set the bar too high. While we want to stretch students, we sometimes forget that high achieving kids are still kids. They don't want a bunch of extra work. They want to be interested. And they still don't have the same understandings as adults. So keep your expectations high, but still make them kid appropriate and achievable for your students. 10.) Provide time for creative thinking. For some reason we often stretch our high achieving students in standard school subjects, but we forget about the arts. Art, design, music, dance, drama and programming all use different parts of the brain. Giving students a chance to be creative also feels more fun to students, which makes them less resistant to extra work. No matter which of these strategies works best for your students, the important thing is to be sure to differentiate your instruction for these highest achieving students just as we do for our lowest achieving students. Recently I wrote a post about why low level/ low income students need projects as much as higher level students. After I wrote this post, I had quite a few questions about how to implement projects with low level students. So today's post is 10 Tips to Making Projects Work for Low Level Students: 1.) Model clear expectations  Be very clear about what you want your students to do, step by step. I often have these steps written out, like in my Math Projects, AND I discuss them with the students before we begin. Then be ready to explain the expectations again when students get stuck. Be patient, especially the first few times when the expectations of a project are completely new to your students. If possible, show students examples of possible end projects. I like to take pictures of student projects to show next year's students. You can also create your own versions of the project to help them have a good visual of the expectations. 2.) Share rubrics with students BEFORE they begin working  Just as you want them to know what the end project will look like, you want them to know what their grade will be based on. With worksheets students generally understand what they have to do to get a good grade. With projects there are many ways to work hard but not be focused on the "correct" key elements they'll be graded on. For this reason, before we begin working on our projects, I always go over the grading rubric with my students. I point out the things that will cost them or gain them points so that they know how to get a good grade. 3.) Gather resources  Lower level students will often benefit if they have specific resources to use, rather than just being asked to "Google it". Especially during the first few projects, I gather together books, articles, videos, website links and other resources where I KNOW my students will be able to find the information that they need. Often, I may even have students complete an Internet Scavenger Hunt on the same topic before we begin a project. This way the students have been led through the research and built up their background knowledge before they're being asked to create a project with this information. For example, I may have the students complete the Amazing Americans Internet Scavenger Hunt first, which covers 9 different American heros. Then we'll do the Amazing Americans Project where they choose one hero, do further research and create an informational power point about the person. 4.) Prepare "background building videos"  Similar to gathering resources, I often spend time building up our background before we begin a project. I often do this with videos. Right now my students are working on the research for the Ancient Civilizations project of their Country Study. Before they began researching their own individual countries' ancient civilizations, we watched multiple videos about ancient civilizations in general. We started with videos about civilizations in general and then moved into videos on the move of people from generally nomadic to generally agricultural. We also watched videos about archeology and how we learn about these ancient civilizations. All of this background helps our low level students to better digest their individual research because they have a frame of reference already built for them. 5.) Be ready to "guide from the side"  Projects are a great way to build independent work skills, but this is an area where most low level students are lacking. Be careful not to take over your students' projects, but be ready to guide your students with a well posed question or a suggestion of how to find their answer. Make sure students are still the ones who are researching or creating, but be available to them when they get stuck. 6.) Start with group work  Group projects provide their own set of challenges, especially the meshing of different personalities. However, group projects also allow higher level students to model good study skills for their peers. This is true even in a "low level class" because you will always have a few students who are higher in level than other students. Often the first few projects of the year will be group projects with the work broken up differently each project. This way students learn what is expected of them and have a chance to have someone other than you help them out. Group projects can also help out the teacher because instead of having 20 different projects going on you might have 4 or 5 to focus on. This means less resources to gather and less chances of a project needing you to prop it up. Eventually you will want your students to work on individual projects so that they have the chance to find an individual area of interest but as you are starting out, group projects can ease the work load both for the students and for you. 7.) Develop procedures for projects  Just like any other activity you are going to do in your classroom, you will need procedures. In my classroom some of the project procedures include:  Students who are working on projects have first priority on a computer or tablet.  Students work on their projects at the same time every day. (Country study gets done first thing in the morning. Math projects get done during math centers. Research projects get done during our literacy block.)  Students are encouraged to take their projects to the floor in order to spread out, especially with poster making.  "In progress projects" can only be stored on one table.  All materials must be cleaned up and stored when we move into another activity.  Projects must be edited by a peer before I will do a final conference.  Projects must be checked by the teacher for spelling, grammar and conceptual mistakes before they can be published. (ie. typed in a blog post or hung in the hallway) Project procedures may differ from project to project, but as with everything else students will respond better to procedures that stay the same. So think carefully about how you want projects to look in your classroom for the school year. Then you can teach procedures once instead of each time you start a project. 8.) Allow for plenty of time  However long you think a project SHOULD take, double it. Especially with low level students, projects will take longer than expected, so allow for that time. This might mean starting a project before you start a unit. Or you might continue working on a project from one unit while you move into another unit. This is okay. Call it preview or review. Either way, I'd rather allow plenty of time for a project and have my students (and myself) feel we succesfully completed the project, than to rush through it just to be done "in time". In fact most teachers that I know who get frustrated doing projects are frustrated because the students don't finish in the time they allotted. The teacher often then throws the project out, leaving both teacher and students feeling like they didn't accomplish something. Prevent this feeling by allowing plenty of time. If students finish early, awesome! That gives you more time for revising, editing, publishing and sharing. I'd always rather my students feel like they finished too early than to have them rushing because I didn't allow enough time. 9.) Start out slowly  I've been doing student projects for 10+ years. Right now in my classroom I have three different projects going on simultaneously. We are almost done with our Be an Architect Math Project where we are designing our dream school. We are right in the middle of our Ancient Civilizations project (which is a small part of our larger, year long Country Study Project). And we have just begun the research for a City Comparison Project. My students started doing projects during week 2 of the school year. However, my first year in teaching we did 4 projects during the entire school year. For a long time I never had more than one project going at the same time. You don't have to try and do what I do or what any other teacher does. If you've never done projects before, choose one small project and try it out. When you're done, take some time to hash out what worked and what didn't. Then choose another project that's slightly bigger and try it, maybe even after you've taken a significant break. Use your reflection to build better procedures or guide your students differently. Don't overwhelm yourself, just give projects a good solid try. Eventually you (and your students  no matter their level) will find your groove with projects. Projects can and should be fun for you and your students. They should also make your job easier, not harder. Projects that are working well will allow your students to begin to "teach themselves". Projects should also decrease the amount of grading you need to do. I'd always rather grade one solid project, which integrates several skills than ten seperate worksheets. 10.) Celebrate the results  No matter how the projects turn out, take time to celebrate. End projects will often look different than what you dreamed about when you were planning. However, that final project is the result of your students' learning and persistence. Take time to celebrate that learning with your students. Allow students to share their projects with someone else as well. This could be their own classmates, another class, their parents or even administrators. Students DO NOT have to stand in front of the class to share out their projects. No matter who your students share with, watching them get excited about the work they did is one of the best parts of doing projects with students, especially low level students. If you're ready to start projects in your room, but you're not sure where to start, consider one of these projects from my Teachers Pay Teachers store: In my experience, I have found that low level / low income students often don't get access to the same projects and higher level thinking activities that their higher level / higher income peers do. Mainly this is because teachers feel like there isn't time for those things when students are behind in basic skills. So instead, we spend a lot of time drilling and skilling low level students in hopes that they will remember those basic facts because of the repetition. Now I'm a big fan of repetition. I use it in certain ways in my classroom. It's great for building math fact fluency or memorizing site words. It can also be helpful for building classroom routines. But, it's not the end all and be all of education. In fact, it often leads us to the quote "Doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results is the definition of insanity." Understanding content and using critical thinking skills to solve a problem do not come from drill and skill repetition. Those types of understanding come from making connections between what we already know and what we are learning. Brain based learning research shows us that students need to be able to connect what they are learning with background knowledge in order to understand and remember what they are reading. One thing that many of our low level students are lacking is background knowledge. So realistically the best thing we can do to help our low level students is to build their background knowledge. Student will more background knowledge learn faster. As teachers we know this to be true because we see it in our classroom all the time. I can personally think of multiple students in my classroom right now who do better not because they have better processing skills but because they have more background knowledge to connect to. Projects are a wonderful way for students to build their background knowledge. They are also a wonderful way for students to make connections between different background knowledge that they already have because projects ask them do work with multiple different skills and concepts simultaneously. Another thing that brain based learning research shows us is that students (and people in general) remember things better if they are invested in them. The choices that projects allow students make it more likely that they will be invested in these learning experiences. For example, my students who are working on country study projects have chosen their countries for their own personal reason. This gives them buy in and personal investment in their learning, ownership if you will. How many students take ownership for drill and skill worksheet learning? Maria Montessori is famous for developing a handson curriculum that gets students engaged in learning through real life projects like cooking meals. Few people remember that her first famous schools was in a poor, inner city area of Rome. She saw unprecented growth in students of low income, low background knowledge and low academic levels. Why then are our American Montessori schools private and geared towards middle to high income students? Why are we not using the Montessori methods, or at least project based learning, in our low income/ low level schools with the kids who need these methods most? I teach in a school like this and I try to incorporate as many projects as I can. Here are a few of the projects I have used this year with my 3rd graders: 
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