As a middle school teacher I often faced classrooms of thirty plus students with ability levels that spanned four to five different grades levels. There was so much variance in ability, skills and academic preparedness that I might as well have been teaching in an old-fashioned schoolhouse with a row for each grade level. I was always told that the answer was differentiated instruction.
The problem was most of my administrators had little advice on how to do this. One year, my principal promised to present the staff with a well-differentiated model lesson, and instead he delivered an incredibly-challenging single-level, single-strategy lesson and asked the staff to journal about how infuriating an experience it was to sit through a lesson that didn’t meet our needs. He said the point was to promote greater empathy for our students and motivation to work harder at differentiating- still he offered no answer on what this looked like or how to accomplish it.
After lots of independent research, I started to develop my own classroom practice around differentiation. I implemented weekly learning stations to embrace a variety of learning modalities, used student activity menus to encourage agency, structured ability-level pairings for leveled work, and high-low groupings for interest-based activities, and often used four different versions of a passage to ensure that all my students had accessible texts. The only problem: I RARELY GOT MORE THAN 3 HOURS OF SLEEP!
While developing LessonWriter, we wanted to produce a system that addressed the insanity. Today, any teacher can create as many differentiation groups as she needs and use the pre-set literacy support options and accommodation settings to automate the production of different versions of a lesson. Also, once you have your differentiation groups in place you can assign different types of comprehension tasks to different student groups.
You can easily control how much of the lesson stays common to the whole class and how different you make each version. The best part: Differentiation Groups are a FREE feature! For more information on using differentiated instruction in the classroom, head here!
To jump in and start setting up classes and differentiation groups on LessonWriter, take a peek at our QuickStart Guide.
Finally, here are some more resources that I found helpful:
Dr. Carol Tomlinson’s Books and Articles on Differentiation
Great Resources from ASCD on differentiated instruction
Six Strategies for Differentiated Instruction in PBL
Kathie Nunley’s Layered Curriculum
Live Binder’s Vast Collection of Links of Differentiated Instruction
Teach Hub.com’s A Quick Guide to Differentiation
Reblogged this on Kmareka.com and commented:
Lessonwriter.com is a Rhode Island-based education startup that has designed a great tool for helping teachers.
Kiersten, thanks so much for the support!
An underlying problem is the current anti-tracking fashion. While some heroic teachers willing to give up sleep might routinely handle vastly different levels in a class, this is a recipe for disaster most of the time, especially for teachers and good students, and especially in mathematics (which I taught for about 40 years)
We talk about this exact topic a lot here at LessonWriter. I didn’t teach math nearly as long as you, but definitely found that sometimes the variance of abilities was detrimental to everyone. Many topics like math are sequential and it is extremely difficult to support students who are not ready to learn the same topic as their peers. Thanks so much for the great comment.
There’s a bigger problem that differentiate education does not adequately address: http://daisybrain.wordpress.com/2011/09/28/how-differentiated-education-misses-the-point/