Differentiation in the Classroom

16 Mar

Every week, Mrs. Ness and Mrs. Waudby spend some time in each high school classroom.  This allows us to interact with students and see learning in action, and these moments each day are the most rewarding part of our job.  We have been very impressed by the level of differentiation that we see teachers delivering as part of their instruction.  Differentiation refers to the recognition that all students come with a variety of background knowledge, experiences, interests and readiness.  Maximizing individual achievement means tailoring learning experiences and providing options so that we can engage all students and provide rich and meaningful learning experiences for them. 

Differentiation occurs in many ways in our high school classrooms.  In public speaking, students select their own topics and differentiate based on their interests and experiences.   An AP/honors student is choosing a topic he or she finds interesting which tends to gravitate towards more complex issues, often with more difficult research to read.  A younger student or less proficient reader will choose a more accessible topic.  All students are held to the same expectations in terms of following the research process, drafting and delivering their speeches; however, students have opportunities to demonstrate success based on their abilities and interests.  The same thing occurs in drama when students select their own scripts, thereby choosing work at a reading level they are most comfortable with.

In English 9, students have multiple opportunities to demonstrate understanding of the assigned literature.  All students are reading the Greek epic, The Odyssey.  However, students may demonstrate their comprehension and analytical skills in a variety of modes.  They may use music, write a poem, draw a map, create an advertisement or write a new ending for a specific scene.  In this way, we model Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, which recognizes that students have different talents and abilities and should be provided multiple modes to demonstrate success.

English 11 students just completed a formal research paper.  To challenge students who had illustrated strong ability in writing already this year, the 11th grade team allowed for more flexibility of the topic and product.  These students chose research topics independently, determined the most appropriate format for their product, and chose the most appropriate audience for their product.  For instance, one student created a PowerPoint and 1-hour presentation of his research for his AP Chemistry class about chemical rates of change.  Similarly, another student created a PowerPoint and 30 minute presentation for her AP World History class about the Spanish Inquisition.  This allowed the students to illustrate their ability to use the required skills, and ultimately pushed them to do something outside of their comfort zone for an audience that would benefit from and appreciate their efforts, thus making the experience more authentic.   All students, regardless of ability level were given a choice of topic and research question and the assignment was scaffolded over a month to ensure students mastered each component of the research process. 

In Conceptual Chemistry, students have just engaged in designing their own lab.  They pose a research question and are given an option as to how deep they want to go into a subject; students wishing to engage in the greater challenge posed a more difficult question such as “How do different concentrations of salt affect the boiling point of the solutions compared to the boiling point of water?” as opposed to something more simplistic such as “How does the boiling point of salt water compare to the boiling point of water?”  Clear and specific rubrics are an important component of this type of activity.

In Biology and Geometry, students are working on layered curriculum units.  These are units levelled by grade.  Students must complete a certain amount of work to earn a C, before they move on the B level and A level projects.  Within each category, there is an element of choice so students may choose how they want to demonstrate learning.

Differentiation encompasses a range of strategies and we are proud of the hard work our teachers do each day to plan a rigorous and engaging learning program for students.

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