Can you describe a lesson that used differientiated learning techniques and how you felt the lesson was successful?
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Differentiation is highly complex on some levels (it's a huge buffet of choices for an instructor to attempt), but on some levels, it's simple: you have to make choices for today's lesson.
To differentiate, you need to be aware of three key areas of students' abilities and styles in order to prepare a lesson.
- students' readiness levels: who's below grade level, as in novice or ELL; who's on target, as in "will be at grade level by the end of the year"; and who's advanced, as in, shows above grade level knowledge and skill and giftedness.
- students' learning styles: multiple intelligences, pace of learning, and so forth.
- students' interests: ranging from English to math, to skateboarding to swimming, to the Civil War to photography -- as wide a range as you can think of!
You will also want to differentiate content, process, and product: what knowledge and skills they learn, how they learn, and how they show you what they now know and can do.
Here's how I plan a differentiated lesson, using Wiggins and McTighe's backwards planning process:
- I identify content and skill goals for the lesson, based on state, local, and national standards. If I have students below grade level and above grade level in the same classroom, I may have to adjust this list. A 6th grade lesson with kids who read on a 3rd and 9th grade level will need some content and skill goals from lower and higher grade levels.
- I identify the product(s) and performances that will demonstrate how all students will show mastery of content and skill objectives. Here's where a complex level of decision making comes in: will I tier assignments? I recommend offering both tiered and standardized assignments during the course of a unit. So, kid will be doing different levels of assignments to achieve the same goal. A lab worksheet in a science class may have to take the form of an A (novice and ELL), B (on target), and C (advanced) version. The final test or lab at the end of the unit may be standardized, but here's what might happen -- on the prior lab worksheet, each child is hopefully challenged at his/her readiness level, and therefore not all novice kids earn F's and not all advanced kids earn A's. On the standardized assessment later on, you may see that, but with each chance to develop a greater range of skill, your students will progress within their zones of proximal development.
- A note about products and peformances: each assignment of any level has a clear rubric for assessment.
- I also offer mixed-ability, engaging assignments where students of varying readiness levels, interests, and learning styles can interact to achieve a learning goal. In this way, you avoid bluebird/red bird groups (where kids feel that all types of talents are needed -- visual, kinesthetic, logical-mathematical, linguistic, etc. -- to accomplish the task).
Since there have been many books written in depth on the subject, I would say this as a rubric for success of differentiated instruction:
- after the lesson, every child could know and do something new;
- after the lesson, every child had experienced some success;
- after the lesson, every child is excited to move to the next learning goal.
For more specific instances of how differentation plays out in your subject area, I recommend any books by Carol Tomlinson, Amy Benjamin, Grant Wiggins, Jay McTighe, Diane Heacox, and Patti Drapeau.
Best of luck. Differentiation takes years to master. It's a Rome not built in a day.
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