Differentiation can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Not all differentiation strategies require intensive planning. After developing the habit of observing your students carefully and paying attention to the factors of high quality instruction, you can begin to add 3 or 4 strategies that require low preparation. Use these weekly for the entire year. By the end of the year, these things will have become second nature to you- they will be at an automatic level.
Here are five low preparation strategies that can be used to differentiate your instruction, your assessments and can also be used as formative assessments.
One: An Easy Way to Begin
Work with a small group for just 5-10 minutes a day. Review what they have learned thus far in the unit. Remediate anything they have mis-learned or failed to learn--help them “fill the potholes.” Don’t forget to provide enrichment for those who are already rock solid.
Two: Homework Assignments
- When creating homework assignment, have two available rather than just one. One might be an extension activity for students who have mastered the basics, the other a review or practice of the basics. You might provide the two levels of assignments in folders of 2 different colors so that you can assign by color, not by a degrading label such as the “bluebirds” and the “buzzards.”
- Another option would be to provide practice of the skills that have been taught in two different assignments, but allow for a choice on the part of the students. Most of the time, homework comes from the adopted curriculum and does not require much teacher preparation.
- Below is an example of multiple choices for homework in vocabulary. This could be used over and over again, each time a new list of vocabulary words is to be studied.
- Use any resource available at home to find other words that have the same prefix, suffix, or root word as the vocabulary words.
- Write the vocabulary words and definitions on flash cards. (Tomorrow, you will trade with a friend.)
- Create a short story using all of the vocabulary words.
- Draw and color pictures that represent the meaning of the vocabulary words.
- Here’s a math example. The class assignment is to complete 15 problems, adding fractions. The directions for higher achievers is:
“Instead of doing all of these problems, pick two – just so I know that you remember how to add fractions. But I’d like you to spend the remainder of your homework time thinking through one of my dilemmas: We teachers tell you that fractions and decimals are the same. I’m not sure if that is true. When I add 1/3 + 1/3 + 1/3, I get 1. When I add 0.333 [repeating] + 0.333 [repeating] + 0.333 [repeating], I get 0.999 [repeating]. Those aren’t exactly the same. Can you help me figure out why? What happens to the extra 0.001?”
Three: Use a KWL chart
This is a simple 3 column chart. The first column is labeled with a K for what is already known about a given topic. The second column, labeled with a “W”, for what you want your students to know from the lesson. The third column is labeled “L” for what is actually learned.
You can use these charts like cheat sheets to spot strengths or gaps in students' base knowledge. This chart attends to the meta-cognitive thought processes of our students- students must know what they know, but more importantly know what they DON”T know so they have fix up strategies- rereading, for example. Also attaching new knowledge to background knowledge your children already have ( K) enhances and deepens comprehension. When reading about the country, if I have only lived in urban areas, a lot of prep time on the part of the teacher would be necessary to ensure I could learn about this new content. IF, however, my grandparents had a farm I would have much more in depth and immediate knowledge of a rural area. These can be done as a class, or individually by students.
Four: Exit Tickets
Print two exit tickets. Present one or the other to each student based on their readiness. Every student is expected to know about the topic but the questions are based on skill level and degree of knowledge.
In the example below, students have been studying simile and metaphor. All students are expected to know both terms, however, you can offer two options for demonstrating that knowledge. Explaining the difference and giving examples, as seen on the first card, is much more sophisticated that simply identifying whether a phrase is a simile or a metaphor, as seen on the second card.
Exit Ticket #1: Explain the difference between simile and metaphor. Give some examples of each in your explanation.
Exit Ticket #2:Happy as a clam is an example of: Circle the correct response- Simile or Metaphor
Five: Non-Compromising Strategies
You can also offer assistance that does not compromise the integrity of what you are trying to accomplish. For example, provide a word bank for difficult words that may need to be used on a test or writing assignment. (Are you testing spelling or students’ understanding of weather? If you are testing knowledge of weather, providing spelling help does not invalidate the test.)
Offer to read any unknown words on any test other than a reading test.
Provide a multiplication table or number line for math. (Yes, we know all students should become fluent in basic facts- maybe you’ll remediate that during small groups. However, a multiplication chart may make it possible for everyone to work on the current skill.)
Remember, start small. You don’t need to create a new differentiated assignment each day for each subject. You can’t. You just can’t. Choose one subject. As you get more comfortable with differentiating assignments, add this strategy to other subjects.