One Scoop or Two? – Differentiation in Education

by {local milk}

Who doesn’t like a heaping bowl of strawberry ice cream? See that little green thing sticking out? It’s not kiwi. It’s a jalepeño, and that’s what makes it weird or different (whatever you want to call it depending on your level of political correctness).  Curbly’s Foodie Friday post is about 16 bizarre ice cream flavors, and after looking through pictures of cheddar ice cream and tomato basil ice cream, I started thinking about my students.

We have many students, with different genes, different backgrounds, different home lives, and different interests (key word being different). Right now my three-year-old daughter is lifting a child-sized lawn chair over her head, throwing it onto the floor, while yelling, “I’m gonna wreck it!” Talk about different, and I feel for her future teachers. Yes, she’s getting time out. Thanks a lot Wreck It Ralph.

My point is this: There are some people out there who may like strawberry jalepeño, or cheddar ice cream, but definitely not everyone. Alternately, students could be the ice cream because there are so many options that make these ice creams different, but when it comes down to it, they’re all ice cream. As long as I’m doing this awkward metaphor, what if my classroom is an ice cream parlor? What will I do to make sure my students get what they need out of it?

Beginning of Brainstorming Phase

  • Compact: It’s what pre-tests are for! If a student gets 90% or better on a pretest, and they’ve obviously mastered the skill, then why can’t they work on something that piques their curiosity while I teach it to the others. It beats sitting there and staring out the window.
  • Google 20%: Read this great post by Ian Byrd. Basically, Google lets employees work on a self-designed project for 20% of their time. Why can’t I make Sir Ken Robinson proud and designate every Friday for this purpose?
  • Interest Inventory: This one is so easy! At the beginning of the year, my students complete a survey about their interests, so I know how to tailor the content to them, or consider new content. I use a Google Form now for instant organization, paper saving, and so I won’t lose it (we all know that’s my real reason). Feel free to use mine (What Matters?).
  • Select materials with something for everyone: It’s difficult to find something for everyone in one unit, but it can be done. Maybe not for every unit, but aim for it. There’s usually some way to make a connection.
  • Project menus: Really? Do they have to write an essay every time? Why not give your dramatic kids the opportunity perform a monologue, your tech gurus a chance to utilize iMovie, and your musician a chance to unleash his inner songwriter and compose a song exploring the theme of a novel.
  • Let them move: I think better when I’m wandering, and I don’t like to be in the same place for long. Some of my students are like this, too. It’s not really fair to ask them to sit for hours at a time, so I have no problem with letting them wander as long as it doesn’t cause a problem for someone else. This doesn’t work well during a lecture, but my classes are more project-based.
  • Ask: Often, I have to stop whatever I am frantically working on to shorten my to-do list and remind myself to ask the students what they want to learn about and how they want to learn it. It doesn’t always work the way they want it to, but sometimes their ideas are insightful.

These are just a few ideas that I have, but it’s time to hang out with my own kids.

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