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One really interesting way to differentiate assessments for a given lesson is to devise them in accordance to students' dominant learning styles. The reason why this method is interesting is that it teaches students that mastery of content exists on different planes or levels. It does not have to be linear, from A to B. Rather, it can exist on a multiplicity of learning levels that explore the nuances between A and B. In devising assessments based on learning styles, one allows the student to fundamentally recognize that their learning and the means by which they are being assessed in it are divergent and eclectic, which is exactly the ideals that we as educators wish to impart to them.
This approach can be done in any discipline. For example, a differentiated assessment based on individual student learning styles can be undertaken in a seventh grade lesson on the causes of the American Revolution. Using any standard American History textbook, students will learn about the different causes behind the American Revolution and, essentially, how the path towards revolution was formed. The goal would be for students to create a product that accurately details knowledge regarding the factors that led to the American Revolution.
One of the four choices for this assessment would involve a directly traditional essay in which students detail three specific events that led to the American Revolution. For each event, students would have to A) Detail the background, B) Explain what the event was in direct and clear historical detail, and C) Identify how this event moved the Colonists closer to Revolution. This is an assessment that would appeal to a student who is rooted in the basic facts. Their understanding of content is strictly factual, reflective of a learning style that grasps concepts in a concrete and absolutist form. This assessment appeals to this style of learning because its criteria for success is one rooted in factual analysis, incrementally logical thought, and is rooted in absolute terms in identification of a "right" or "wrong" answer. This assessment asks students to create a product where the road to revolution can be seen.
Another assessment choice for this lesson would be to ask students to write an essay from the base of evidence. For example, students need to defend or critique the following statement: "The American Revolution could have been prevented." Students would be required to come up with three specific and historical points that would support their point of view in a persuasive essay. This assessment appeals to a student who understands through arranging facts in a paradigm or thematic frame of reference. This student understands the importance of facts, but sees them in a larger context that argues from the point of view that reveres evidence. For these students, their strength in learning does not come in the form of absolute and factual "right and wrong," as much as what can be proven and what can be argued. This assessment asks students to create a product where a specific point of view regarding the road to revolution is evident.
In seeking to appeal to a student who understands content from a more "feeling" point of view, another assessment would be to ask students to compose a personalized writing prompt that is reflective of someone who was immersed in the time period. For example, writing a speech as a member of the Sons of Liberty an hour before the Boston Tea Party is to take place, or writing a letter as a member of the Committees of Correspondence in convincing the colonists to take action, or as the parent of a protester killed at the Boston Massacre enables students to appropriate content through emotional connection. In each of these settings, there has to be a personalized approach to historical analysis. This type of assessment appeals to the student who needs to be emotionally engaged in either content, instruction, or products. This assessment asks students to create a product where this personalized approach to historical understanding is evident.
Finally, a differentiated assessment can embrace artistic representation. For these students, their approach to learning is unique and individualized. They seek to explore possibilities and opportunities in their learning products. These students seek to integrate themselves into their work and the result is that they learn through a frame of reference that merges intellect and voice. An assessment that meets this standard would be to ask students to compose a collage that makes a particular statement about the Colonial progression towards revolution. The collage has to have a particular statement along with a collection of images that illuminates that statement. (An example of such a statement might be "Revolution is inevitable" or "Breaking up is hard to do.") For this particular group of students, the assessment appeals to their learning style because it is rooted in individuality and creativity, essential components to this type of learner. It also demands the student to apply their own voice to the intellectual content in creating something that is fundamentally transformative, pushing the boundaries of what can be as opposed to what merely is.
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