Monday, February 20, 2012

Differentiation: Easier than you think

Many teachers absolutely dread hearing the word differentiation. For some, it conjures up images of long hours spent planning multiple lessons and having your own crazy mad-scientist hair.

(If you really want mad scientist hair, you can purchase it here)

But, (brace yourself here) differentiation is not as difficult as it seems. Differentiation in the classroom does not mean you always have to plan multiple lessons. Believe it or not- there are multiple ways that you can differentiate your classroom to fit the needs of ALL your students, but especially your ELLs.

Let's dive in to differentiation.

There are four main ways to provide differentiation within your classroom:
  1. Content
  2. Product
  3. Interactive
  4. Environmental
Let's take a look at how we can employ each type of differentiation in our classrooms. Also remember as you are reading, that it is easy to overlap some of these types of differentiation.

Content Differentiation
This is probably the type of differentiation that teachers are most familiar with. When you employ content differentiation, you provide different content and/or a different lesson for various groups of students. Depending on your level of experience and the number of groups you have to plan for, this type of differentiation can be complex and time-consuming.

But stop for a moment. Do you already do small reading groups? If you alter the lesson slightly for each group, then you're already providing content differentiation. Tic-tac-toe or Dinner Menu projects also provide opportunities for content differentiation.When doing content differentiation, each lesson does not have to be VASTLY different. It can be as simple as providing a text on the same topic at different reading levels.

Product Differentiation
Product differentiation is exactly what it sounds like- students create different products of learning. You can teach one whole class lesson, and then have different groups or individuals create products based on different learning goals. For example, if one student needs to practice main idea, while another needs to practice author's purpose, they can read the same article. One student can complete a graphic organizer & set of questions directed at main idea, while the other completes a graphic organizer & set of questions based on author's purpose. Or, after reading the same fictional story, one student can do an activity focused on setting, while another can do an activity focused on characterization. Again, tic-tac-toe and dinner menu projects can provide opportunities not only for content differentiation, but product differentiation as well. Station based learning is another example of product differentiation if the stations are centered around the same content topic.

Interactive Differentiation
Simply changing the way a student completes an assignment can be differentiation. Instead of having students work with the same partner, have them mix it up and work with two new partners they don't usually work with. Provide grouping for different activities based on student abilities. For example, sometimes you might want to have red-red, yellow-yellow, green-green pairings, while at other times, you might want to pair green students with red or yellow to give the reds and yellows a boost.

In my opinion, this domain also includes the way that YOU interact with your students when presenting the content. Sometimes you will want to work with a student or student(s) one-on-one, in small groups, or as a whole group.

You should also vary the way that you present. Use different types of technology available, but don't always depend on them to present your lesson. The use of visuals, manipulatives, sensory experiences, etc. all differentiate the way that students interact with you, one another, and the content.

Environmental differentiation
Don't be afraid to change up your environment. I know, with all the other things we teachers have to do, how tempting it can be to decorate the classroom at the beginning of the year, and then simply change out the bulletin board throughout the year. I think that this creates a stagnant environment. Choose a few anchor items that you will have up all year, but change your posters and other anchor charts to match the content that you are studying. This means that even the student who is always looking around the room while you are talking will  be learning something new.

I also like to change up the environment by changing how it smells. My classrooms always seem to smell a little funny on their own,  so I like to buy plug-in fragrance things to make it smell better. I change them out to match the seasons and keep things "fresh".  The students notice the different smells, and my middle schoolers even used to comment on how my classroom smelled better than their other rooms. Their friends would walk them to the door of my classroom, look to see how comfortable it was and how good it smelled, then ask if they could join my classroom too.

Another way to differentiate the environment is to have different types of workstations. When I had my own room, I always had a reading corner set up with lamps and comfy chairs, beanbags, and pillows. I also had areas where students could go when they needed to concentrate. When students are working individually, you might sometimes allow them the freedom to choose where they work so they can get out of their desks. I kept a few lap desks in the reading center for students who liked to work there.

I hope that these suggestions can help you incorporate differentiation more easily into your classroom.Look for future articles on differentiation for more information. Have a great week!

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