Differentiation  

November 22, 2013
On October 1st, Carolyn Coil presented on Differentiated Activities and Assessments Using the Common Core Standards at the Nebraska Association for Gifted Fall Conference in Omaha. Differentiated instruction allows each student to learn at the depth, complexity, and pace that is most valuable for them. Differentiating curriculum and instruction is an effective approach to use when providing for the needs of all students. Whether teachers differentiate content, process, products, or the learning environment, the use of ongoing assessment and flexible grouping makes this a successful approach to instruction.

Carolyn’s work is based on the philosophy of differentiation which includes structuring classrooms so that there are provisions for:

Different ways for students to take in information and show what they know. This can include basing student activities on multiple intelligences, learning styles, learning preferences, and learning modalities. It truly means giving students choices in project-problem and product-based learning.

Differing amounts of time to complete work. Educators know that when students are given the exact amount of work, every student does not finish it at exactly the same time. Differentiation allows for differences in pacing and removes us from the “factory model” of education.

Different approaches due to language acquisition and cultural differences. Students not only come to us in schools knowing different languages, but they also come with different amounts of exposure to language and skills in using it. They come from cultures that have different ideas about education, ranging from “school is the most important thing you will do” to “why bother to even go to school?”

Different levels of thinking, readiness, skills, and/or ability. Students come to classrooms at all different levels. Some start well below grade level, while others may have mastered most of the grade-level work. It is foolish for our classroom or school to think that everyone should be able to move onto grade level. If this is our goal, we might as well send students who are already on grade level home for the year. We should be taking every student from their starting point and helping them progress as they learn new information.

Different assignments for students in the same classroom. In a differentiated classroom, students work on a variety of different assignments. Usually these assignments are based around the same theme or topic and/or standards, but the activities are based on what the student needs, not on what everyone else is doing.

Different means to assess what has been learned. In today’s education, assessments are the most difficult aspect of differentiation. The reason being that differentiated curriculum and instruction calls for differentiated assessments, yet many assessments that schools focus on are standardized. It is predicted that educators in the future will use both. Using differentiated assessments leads to greater success on high-stakes standardized tests.

The activities that Carolyn shared at the conference support the philosophy of differentiation. Educators learned ways to differentiate their curriculum using the following:

Criteria Cards
- a list of criteria students look at each time they use the same process or complete the same product or project.
Curriculum Compacting- a strategy that works to challenge those who already know the material being taught. It involves pre-testing to find out which students have already mastered basic skills and knowledge.

Individual Lesson Plans
- a way to organize standards-based learning activities so students have a choice as to which activities they do. These can be based on the students learning styles, learning modalities or multiple intelligences.

Questivities- got their name from combining the words questioning and activities. These activities engage students in higher levels of thinking and rigorous learning.

Tiered Lessons and Units- multiple versions of assignments and activities that permit students to work at their appropriate levels. This approach is based on differences in readiness, ability, skills, and/or experience. Tiered lessons allow students to build on prior knowledge and skills.

-by Dallas Lewandowski, Professional Development Coordinator

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