What does it mean to differentiate?
Simply put, differentiating instruction means that you must teach in a variety of ways to meet the levels and learning styles of all of your students.
What this means for the teacher is more work. One worksheet, thinking map, lesson, center activity or game, may not be what all your students need.
What this means for your student is SUCCESS. When they have a worksheet, thinking map, lesson, center activity or game that fits them and their needs, they have fun, take their time and do the activity correctly. The extra time and attention on your part makes for successful students!
As a teacher, you need to look at your plans, lessons, activities and centers to see how you can modify it for your different level students. After all, isn’t the day much nicer when all your students are engaged and on task. This doesn’t happen when something is too hard, or confusing.
For your low students it is important to level your questions (which I am sure you do without even thinking about it). These students may just be at the knowledge or comprehension level. You may even need to give choices of answers for some of these kids. Doing this will help these students feel confident and smart, this in turn keeps them engaged and happy.
The thinking on your feet as to what type of question to ask your different students is pretty easy, especially for the seasoned teacher, but the looking at worksheets, centers, games and activities requires a bit more planning on your part.
Again, for your low students they may need questions to guide them through filling out a worksheet or graphic organizer. They may need to have one or two of the pieces and then they fill in the rest, or it might simply be that they get all of the answers and they just have to pick and choose where to put them
For your higher kids, digging deeper into Bloom’s and asking application, analysis, and or synthesizing types of questions will help these students become strong thinkers. When you ask these questions make sure answers are at the same level as the question being asked. For example, if you ask, “What is the relationship between Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn?” you can’t just accept the answer of “they are friends”. They need to dig deeper and give evidence or examples of that friendship and explain what kind of friends they are, hi-bye friends, classmate friends, playground friends, best friends, etc.
When it comes to the worksheet, graphic organizers, centers, games and activities you need to make sure these are not too easy for them and or they will be speeding through them, not really learning, and then worse, disrupting others. For these types of students, you need to add something extra, a deep level question for them to answer, have them come up with their own examples to add to the paper. They can sort the info on the paper into a thinking map, or maybe the come up with their own deep level question to ask another classmate. There are so many ways to have these students go further, think deeper, and learn more.
Don’t forget to look at your centers and games, these need to be differentiated too. This is where I think we forget to differentiate. It is very easy to get a new game or activity, place it in the center and leave it at that. We as teachers have to remember that one activity plus all students does not equal differentiating. In my opinion, differentiating your centers is critical to an effective center time and successful student. This is where the students are truly working independently and if the center is too easy or too hard then there is more of a chance for students to be off task and loud. These activities and games need to be at their level and this means you must differentiate.
If you have a group of kids that knows their sight words or Dolch words then they shouldn’t be just practicing these words, they should be using these words. Have them sort the words into rhymes, or blends, or verbs, nouns, etc. If they are passing their math facts then they don’t need to practice their addition facts at center time they should use these math facts in another way. Can the write word problems or explain how to do the problem, etc. Now is your chance to be creative and to get your kids thinking deeper and working smarter.
Some things that you can do:
- Come up with a leveled question list for the book, activity, or lesson you are working on. This way you don’t have to think on your feet, you will have questions right there to guide you if need be.
|A list of leveled questions I used for the book Swimmy by Leo Lionni|
- Have the same center activity or game for all the students but each group is required to play/use it differently. Some say it, some match it, some put it in sentences, and some write a question for it, some look for the answers, some are given the answers, etc.
|A Rhyme Time Fishing game I would have my low to medium students play as is.|
|The same Rhyme Time Fishing Game but for my medium to high kids I would have them record their words plus add one more.|
|This word find center activity would be for my low to medium students. I have given them the words they just need to find them in the word find.|
|Same word find activity, but the synonym words for small are missing. They need to do a word hunt through the story and add them to the list. After they find the words they can find them in the word find.|
- Before you photocopy worksheets or thinking maps decide how each level is going to work on it. Are you going to give some students the answers so they just have to choose what goes where, or do they have to fill out the whole thing on their own? Are you going to add a question onto the paper so when they are done they will have to use the information they just filled in to answer it.
|This sequencing paper went to my low group. I gave them to of the answers and they had to cut and past the remaining 4 into the correct place.|
|For my low to medium students I have them the sequence of events, they just had to put them in the correct sequence.|
|For my medium to high students, they had to come up with the 6 main events on their own and then answer some questions based on the information in the sequencing map.|
What are some of the ways you differentiate? How do you make your centers and games effective for all of your students? Please let me know :)