Saturday, March 7, 2015

Making differentiation practical

I feel like differentiation is often viewed by teachers as pie-in-the-sky fantasy. Sure, it sounds great that we would tailor instruction to individual students based on pre-assessed readiness, interests, and motivation, but how does that really work when you're trying to get 20+ kids in one room through the common core in time for the SBAC?

But I feel like I've cracked the code in my biology class,or at least I'm close to it.

I call it a differentiated, mastery-based approach. In a previous post, I described the whole framework, but right now I just want to focus on the way I think this approach makes the goal of differentiation actually attainable by real people.

For every sub-unit the students choose among assignment options according to their readiness and interests and work individually or in small groups at their own pace. The assignment options are learning activities that require the students to read their text, watch posted videos, or do online research to answer the essential question. As they work, I am constantly circulating from student to student, group to group, asking questions, monitoring progress, and delivering individualized direct instruction as needed.

It's a sort of "divide and conquer" approach, I suppose, though there's no conquering involved. Set the students out to learn on their own and then walk around and deliver personalized instruction.

And by using student choice rather than teacher decision to differentiate, it saves a boatload of teacher time and effort while at the same time boosting student autonomy, which is a huge motivator.

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