Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Differentiating Differentiation

Hi all,

Because I just conducted a workshop on differentiating instruction, I wanted to share an epiphany I recently experienced: Differentiating instruction doesn't have to be difficult OR time consuming!

While differentiating curriculum can be overwhelming, I think the variety of differentiation strategies lie on a continuum. At one end are LESS time-intensive instructional strategies such as the ones I'm including in this post. Layered curriculum is located further along the continuum, and near the furthest end is tiered instruction, a more time-intensive differentiation.

The strategies that do not demand an inordinate amount of preparation are also simple to implement, and they support our diversified populations. For example, allowing students choice is not only motivating for adolescents, it is also a form of differentiation. Think of all the ways teachers factor choice into the curriculum; here are just a few.
  • Flexible grouping that includes permitting students to choose their own groups at times
  • Creating a "question bank" from which students can choose to answer a required number to earn needed points
  • Providing prompts to choose from or allowing students to write an original response
  • Allowing in-depth learning of a self-selected topic within unit or theme being studied
  • Presenting options for end-of-unit projects/products
Differentiating activities can be as simple as varying the complexity of a graphic organizer to facilitate differing abilities or readiness concerns. For example, most teachers have access to a variety of graphic organizers, ranging from sequencing to Venn diagrams. Students can read the same text but respond differently, based upon their purpose for reading.
  • Some groups may use a Venn diagram to compare that text to another; 
  • another may use a sequential organizer to list the sequence of events; 
  • a third group may use a describing organizer to enumerate the characteristics of time period
Using the JigSaw instructional strategy, students could reconfigure their groups so that each graphic organizer is represented. The resulting discussion should expose many facets of the topic being studied.

Teachers can also assign students to complete just one section of a graphic organizer and then get into JigSaw groups to collaborate in completing the rest of the parts. 

Another simple way to differentiate instruction is to invite students to respond to a topic or text by using the "Silent Discussion" tool. One way to do this is to list a different statement or question on sheets of butcher paper and post them around the room. Students can rotate from one question to another and record their comments or questions on the papers. They can also respond to one another's responses as well.

I just received an email message from one of yesterday's participants, Cynthia Vandermeiden of Joel P. Jensen Middle. Today she introduced the Silent Discussion with her 8th grade students, and she was thrilled at how effective it was. Cynthia called the experience a "Silent Socratic Circle!" Here are some of her students' reflections about the experience:

I like it because the shy kids we never hear from got to share their ideas.” 
“You can read the dialogue and respond instead of forgetting what someone said.” 
“I felt like it flowed instead of everyone just responding to your question.”

“The assignment was cool, but our ideas were lame.” (Then we discussed how that was out of my control, but how they could change the level of interest...which was fun to point out. ;) )

“It was difficult because people were shortening their thoughts so they didn’t have to write a lot, but then we couldn’t understand their ideas.”  (Open discussion [included] ... how grammar and sentence structure is important in writing).

“I like that we have to connect with everyone’s idea, not just one person’s idea” ([We] compared it to a Socratic seminar)

“I haven’t been in the inside circle, but this gives me a good idea of what I’d need to do when I am.” 
In writing this, I hope you see how much you may already incorporate differentiated instruction into your pedagogy and may have picked up an additional idea or two. In future posts, I plan to discuss layered curriculum and tiered instruction.

Best wishes,


Mark Pennington said...

I think that you will appreciate this related article: The Dos and Don’ts of Differentiated Instruction

link2literacy said...

Thanks, Mark. The link is to an interesting read. To readers of my blog, I just want you to know that Mark a publisher in addition to an educator. So, yes, there is a little self-promotion going on here, but the info was still provocative.

I didn't agree with all of it, and I'd love to get your opinions. rbs

Ann said...

I love that there are passionate, committed educators out there. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I'm always so pleased to hear from you!


caribookscoops said...

Renae - love this post! You know me and differentiation something I definitely believe in. I am enjoying all your posts and seeing all your and your fellow teacher's great ideas.

link2literacy said...

Cari, Glad you enjoyed it. That's the next phase of "plan" to improve school-wide literacy. Still don't know if I'll be around to help with it. I work with some great teachers. We need to get together and catch up.

Take care, and thanks for dropping by! rbs