Thursday, June 21, 2012


Differentiate Smarter...not harder

So, yesterday I caught the last two steps of Robyn Jackson's webinar via the ASCD, "Beyond Differentiation." I was a bad un-punctual teacher, so I missed the first 15 minutes.

Basically her webinar talked about the three ways to easily differentiate any unit you teach to help every student! Alright this sounds good; I am in!

The first step is unpacking your standards. As stated earlier, I was caught up with helping who was bored and reading a book of short stories in my office so I COMPLETELY forgot about this and ended up missing step 1. I am going to assume that this is when the teacher breaks down the standards so they are at their bare essentials and you can more clearly plan your lessons understanding exactly what you expect each student to be able to do at the end of the unit.

Divide your students. This is NOT dividing them among high, medium or low. There are four categories with only two qualifiers.

How does your student deal with content? Do they struggle with vocabulary words, and the basic content or they have a million words and understand the content. For example: If they rock content they can convert all verbs into participles and understand what a participle phrase is. 
Your students either have high content(HC) or low content.(LC)

How does your student process? Does your student apply process easily? Do they struggle with the process? For example: If they rock process they can put a participle phrase into a sentence no problem.

Your students either have high process(HP) or low process (LP)

Now by the end of the lesson a student should have the process and the content. So each student gets grouped by their starting content and process LCLP, LCHP, HCLP, HCHP

How do you figure out which student goes where?
  • Well you can give a pre-test (where each question signifies either content or process) and grade it deciding from there who is a best fit for where.
  • Have students self identify, "How much do you know about participles? Do you know all the irregular ones? Can you use them to describe a noun?"
  •  Have the teacher identify: If you know some students struggle with content put them in a different group
It should be made VERY CLEAR to the students that these groups are NOT rigid. They are fluid and as such students can easily move from one to the other. 

Here's what I like about this method.
It encouraged students to learn how they learn and help themselves. If they know they struggle with conjugating then they can learn that they need to focus on that.

I was discussing on a forum the other day that I listen really well. I learn VERY well by listening. When I read it takes me longer to learn. I know this about myself, it is why I prefer lectures and webinars to websites and books. I did not always know this about myself and once I learned I became a better student.

Here's what I don't like about this methodI know she said that students don't feel constrained by the labels because they are always changing, but I just don't believe my students would feel that way. Nor do I believe I would feel that way were this done to me as a student.

I prefer my differentiation done on the sly, "OK I have put you in random groups: Susie, Johnny, Jorge and Lee I want you to do the project this way." The groups are random the partners are selected by me, etc. This is a way to differentiate without making students feel inadequate

Make your lesson plans  and JUST think about the standard. What would work well for this unit? Focus on that. AT this point the teachers are NOT thinking of the students. Below is a screengrab from the webinar. At this point we are ONLY doing the grey.

NOW we step in and add steps for each of the students (the white background). 
Since we were short on time Robyn couldn't go into THAT much detail on each of them but we got a gist.
  • Low content students should
o  Get more practice on the vocab (cheat sheets, homework)
o    May need help connecting (Graphic Organizers)
  • High Content
    • Add ambiguity (selection of readings, raising other questions)
    • Add complexity (more irregular verbs)
  • Low Process
    • Keep samples around
    • Have formulas (Noun+ past particle + verb = sentence!)

  • High Process
    • Increase complexity of the process (Ass a participle phrase to a past perfect sentence)
    • Help students use multiple processes at once (Great, can you add an appositive to that sentence too?)
    • Improve speed and accuracy (Try to do five in 10 minutes)
    • Add restraints (Don't use the cheat sheet)

Robyn was very charismatic and seemed intelligent. I am just not sure this is the best match for my personal teaching style, but I will be keeping it in the back of my head while planning my fall classes this Summer. Amazon has quite a few books by Robyn the following seemed relevant to the webinar. In particular she mentioned how to support struggling students and the differentiation workbook.

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