Differentiating Instruction: It’s Not as Hard as You Think
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Differentiating Instruction: It’s Not as Hard as You Think

(light music) – [Larry] I’m Larry Ferlazzo. Differentiating instruction. To some educators it conjures visions of having to create a different lesson for every student in the room and long nights of planning and grading. That insanity is not what
differentiation is all about. Differentiating instruction
is really a way of thinking, not a preplanned list of strategies. Oftentimes, it is making decisions in the moment based on this mindset. It’s recognizing that, to
paraphrase Rick Wormeli, fair doesn’t always mean
treating everyone equally. It’s recognizing that all of our students bring
different gifts and challenges and that as educators we need
to recognize those differences and use our professional judgment to flexibly respond to
them in our teaching. Carol Tomlinson talks about the ability to differentiate in three areas, content, process and product. For content, student choice is one way we might differentiate, like allowing students to choose their research topics or essay prompts. As teachers, we need to
keep our eyes on the prize. In other words, we have
to keep asking ourselves what are the main learning objectives? One day, my students were
writing an argument essay about what would be the worse natural disaster to experience. John’s head was down on the desk. He was not doing anything. I knew that he was interested in football, so I told him that he could write an essay on why his favorite team was the best. He would still have to make an argument, just about football instead
of hurricanes or earthquakes. His eyes lit up. He got to work and wrote
what his mother later told me was the first essay he had
ever written in school. He had followed all the guidelines of a good argument essay. The prize in this case was learning to write an argument essay, not learning to write
about natural disasters. To differentiate by process, teachers can change up
how they group students. Sometimes a mixed ability
group might work best, while sometimes it might be appropriate to have same ability groups. We might have an English
proficient buddy work with an English language
learner to help them out. During independent reading time in my early morning
class several years ago, one student tended to fall asleep. I told him that if he wanted, he could go to the back
and sit on a desk and read. Soon, several others joined him. A few days later I saw
another student dozing off. Before I could say anything, one of his classmates whispered to him, just go sit on a desk. Again, it’s a matter of
keep our eyes on the prize. What are the learning objectives? And what are the best roads to get there for different students? Teachers can also differentiate by the type of product students create. The major demonstration of
learning doesn’t always have to be an essay or a multiple choice test. One year, I had a student
who liked to doodle when other students or I were talking. I told her it was okay as
long as she was doodling about the information we were discussing. She built on those doodles
to create a final project that brilliantly and visually represented all the key points we had covered. When I give tests, I often gives students an extra blank page where
they can write anything else they remember about the topic being tested that they think is important. I often find the quality of thinking and writing better there than in response to my test questions. None of the differentiating
strategies I’ve mentioned have created any extra work for me. They did require that I had
relationships with my students to know their strengths,
challenges and interests. And I needed to demonstrate
flexibility in my thinking. Making these strategies
successful also required building a strong class culture so
that some of the students were being treated differently and they understood why
and they understood that that was the only way to be truly fair. The ideas mentioned here are
just a drop in the bucket. There are a zillion other ways we can support our students’
gifts and challenges, we just need to keep
our minds and ears open. (upbeat music)

About James Carlton

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8 thoughts on “Differentiating Instruction: It’s Not as Hard as You Think

  1. This is awesome but with a caveat. The problems comes in when we have to have assessment testing. If students are groomed to have a more apt assignments for them self, it will have a bad affect on them with the "fill in the bubble" or even open response questions. How would we get them ready for those if we differentiate with "choice"?

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