Back in July of 2010, I wrote a post called Differentiation: Stop Rolling Your Eyes...and I was reminded this week why I so strongly believe in the concept of "differentiation" even if it is a "buzz word" or a "passing fad."
I don't believe it's a passing fad because it can never get old to teach ALL kids.
Nonetheless, this week, our district provided us with some professional development on "differentiation" by bringing in speaker and author Dr. Michael Optiz. Dr. Optiz has written many books such as Do-able Differentiation and Literacy Lessons to Help Kids Get Fit and Healthy. Dr. Opitz gave some great ideas, shared some great children's literature, and was a generally nice and knowledgeable man.
While I found Dr. Optiz and his suggestions worthwhile and meaningful, I also believe its important to remember that meeting the needs of all learners does not have to be some elaborate plan or something you've planned weeks in advance. Differentiation is good teaching.
Because I believe that differentiation is something I do well (because I have to do it every single day because of my job!), I would like to share some more ideas for easily differentiating in the classroom (for more ideas, please see the post from July 2010, "Differentiation: Stop rolling your eyes...").
1. In an elementary school science class, students often work on concrete concepts such as categorizing animals or the digestive system. Make a few extra visuals for your visual learners. Put a copy of the visuals on the students' desks who might need an extra visual or two to understand the concept. Reference the visuals by walking by and tapping the correct visual when you are speaking about a topic. Where to find the extra visuals? Try Google Images. It's free!
2. In addition to extra visuals, maybe some students need to move items during instruction (tactile learners). Try to make some file folder tasks that the students might be able to manipulate during the lesson. File Folder Tasks are easy to make and can be used year after year. You might need to invest in some Velcro, but often you can find it cheap if you look in craft stores for "hook and loop" tape or straps. You can also think about writing to Velcro and asking for any "scraps" that they can share. They've sent our school two big boxes of Velcro!
Here are some sites for file folder tasks that you can print out and use:
- File Folder Heaven
- Enchanted Learning File Folders
- The Virtual Vine
- File Folder Fun
- My File Folder Games
3. Graphic Organizers. Sure, it's good practice to use graphic organizers with everyone, right? But some kids may need graphic organizers to organize their thoughts about a story they just read, about the social studies content that was delivered, about the writing they plan on doing... Graphic organizers are an easy way to make reading, writing, and learning more visual and organized.
Where to get pre-made graphic organizers?
- Reading A-Z. If you are lucky enough to subscribe, there is a HUGE library of graphic organizers. If you don't get Reading A-Z, wait for their Open House in May and check out their resources!
- Freeology.com : Free Printable Graphic Organizers
- Education Oasis: Graphic Organizers
- Teacher Vision: Graphic Organizers
- Super Teacher Worksheets: Graphic Organizers
4. Leveled Readers. Find different books on different levels on the SAME TOPIC. If you are reading about dinosaurs, find a picture book, an I CAN READ book like Danny the Dinosaur, and a nonfiction reader about dinosaurs. Flexible groups can read different books and then the whole class can have a discussion on dinosaurs. Do the same with other concepts.
5. Do all of the kids need to take the dreaded "timed test" for math facts? How about having different ways to assess math facts? I haven't seen a content standard that says "Student must complete 5000 addition facts in 5.2 seconds," have you? Why do we even give those timed tests anymore? I thought we were looking to create thinkers who use different strategies to get to the same answer. What if some kids took the timed test while others played an addition game on the computer like "Adding Bricks" and others played an addition game on the iPad like "Math Magic" and others used the Touch Math strategies to be able to answer the facts?
Now, how can you apply these SIMPLE strategies in your classroom?