Although you're definitely not Goldilocks when it comes to cookies, as in any type will do, have you ever wondered what makes a sandwich cookie the perfect balance of milk and cookie? If your dipping sauce, the milk in this case, is too cold, the cookie turns waterproof and your milk mustache is more of a drip on your shirt. If the milk has been sitting out for too long, your cookie sinks into the milky abyss. But, maybe, just maybe your milk is the perfect balance between warm and cool--the cookie becomes saturated but you don't lose it in the process.
Although a far-fetched metaphor, in reality, differentiation is adjusting the figurative temperature of our classroom for each student in order to best permeate the mind of our students' with knowledge and thinking. If we are too far removed from their needs and do not understand the data (whether quantitative concerning their grades or qualitative concerning their learning interests and styles), what we want to teach them does not sink in and they repel the learning just like our waterproof sandwich cookie. If we throw a bunch of content together with no purpose, the cookie of knowledge turns into a mush and students aren't sure exactly what they've learned or how to put it together. The more you know your student, the more you can adjust your classroom instructions, strategies, time, and arrangement, in order to give them knowledge and critical thinking skills in the same way the more you know your cookie, the more you understand the best milk temperature for dipping.
When we hear the word differentiation, even looking at the word may make us shudder. As teachers, although we hear the word and know we need to make it happen in the classroom, it seems far too complex a topic and floods our mind with the million other things we have to do. But before you think too much into the concept, differentiation is that x-factor of teaching and it's completely possible on an everyday basis. Right now, we're focusing on how to improve the third block that is our differentiation period.
When we think of differentiation, let's think first of what should be going on in that period. The answer is simple and is known as "REP"pin your content. We can remediate, enrich, or progress through the content we are already working on in the class.
So, what is the key to beginning differentiation anyway? It's not throwing some things together for the sake of throwing some things together. It's purposefully designing your class to meet the needs of students. It's the difference between cooking something and throwing the ingredients together because you have to do it or enjoying cooking a meal that you know will be the perfect balance for your taste buds and what your body needs. So, how do we cook up an excellent platter of DI? We always plan our "next step," but here are some helpful first steps. Let's place them in a list:
1. In the beginning, you've got to have a knowledge of your students. When we talk knowledge, let's first talk qualitatively. You could start with an interest survey and it's never too late. This student inventory, if you make a copy of it, gives you the ability to understand several elements of students. You understand their "encouragement language," the way that they learn best, and how they best respond to your correction. In all reality, one size fits all has never been the best approach to education. And according to this article, differentiating even discipline can determine the course of a student's life.
2. In the beginning, you've also got to have knowledge of your student performance. Yes, when we talk student performance, we are talking...wait, yes...I will say it: DATA! I won't lie. As an English teacher, when I used to hear the word, I thought: there is no way we can quantify such an art! But in reality, in any subject it starts with a standard and mapping the conceptual knowledge of that standard. In English, please? If we start by choosing a standard of focus, we can map the standard into its different parts/pieces of knowledge and then assess whether the student understands those parts. Here's an example of the steps involved for those of you who'd like some enrichment :).
3. When students have mastered the standards we are working on in our course, we've got to provide them enrichment. So, does enrichment mean giving students more busy work on the same subject that we're studying? Absolutely not. Well if they aren't doing what we're doing, how will they receive a grade, you might ask? In this situation, I recommend adding an enrichment column to your gradebook. Here's how to do it. And for those who need ideas for enrichment? A book like this one offers so many easy, workable ideas. Even though designed for gifted children, the book is technically about enrichment. Here's a generic choiceboard assignment you can begin using right away for your class, if you don't have the penchant to order quite yet.
4. When students have not mastered the standards in our course or parts of the standards we have mapped out, we must provide them remediation. If data charts aren't developed for your subject area, contact us for help! Data charts allow students and teachers to see exactly what standards have been mastered and which have not. You might keep a log of students and their needs so that you keep the information at the forefront of your mind after you've graded or while you're in the classroom. Forms can easily be placed on your phone, by choosing the menu (...) option on your internet browser and by using the "copy to home screen" option for quick access.
5. The DI block is also an amazing way to conference with your students concerning the work they are completing in your class. It is a way to progress in the current curriculum. Timely feedback aids growth and instruction, so while your other students are engaged in either remediation or enrichment, take time to work with students individually. If you haven't had the time to check it out yet, Google Classroom is an amazing conferencing tool as both student and teacher can be looking at and commenting on student work either on Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Drawing, or Google Slides. We'd love to show you how it works!
Don't forget to take this quick survey on your current ability level with differentiation. But above all else, remember that differentiating our classroom is a skill that grows over time as we understand our students both through their individual qualitative needs and their quantitative academic data. They can't survive without each other. And maybe this whole process looks super messy for you at first. And maybe you don't like the messiness of students working on different things at the same time. Don't worry. It's through reflection, mistakes, and simply trying things that we find some of the best ideas and become even stronger as teachers. Here's a certificate to use if you mess up in the name of making students better. I know I need it. We're here for you. Keep up the good work Bulldogs!
The Coaches Four