For all students, typical or disabled, differentiation involves process, the teaching, and product, the pieces of assessment that demonstrate proficiency. In looking at this over the past few days I found copious resources in a variety of formats. One particularly useful items is the powerpoint linked here (Differentiation Slides). It is concise and informative and provides examples of differentiation for a variety of subjects.
Interestingly, our PD for the school year has been focused on PBGR (Proficiency Based Graduation Requirements) and I have been part of the team looking at differentiating instruction and assessment. As a Special Educator working as a co-teacher, this training has been more informative and useful that other PD I have been part of in our district. Between the PD, the IRIS module, and the other resources I’ve been exposed to recently, I feel I have a much better grasp on differentiation in the classroom.
Preparing for Differentiation
Preparing students for differentiation means gradually introducing the process, teaching and learning practices, and providing scaffolding as they learn the system. Most of what I have read and heard relates that a key part of the process is getting to know the students in the class. What do they possess for prior knowledge? What are their learning styles? Where are their skills and challenges? What is their level of interest? These steps take time and effort, and in a field where both come at a premium, it is easy to try to shortcut and skip steps. The result of effective planning for differentiation is the potential for successful differentiation. Failing to strategically plan will result in a failure to effectively differentiate.
All it Takes is Time
As a co-teacher in ELA and Math classes I realize that the one thing that I can never seem to have is time. I have resources, information, texts, and the availability of technology and applications, but carving out time to plan with the content teacher is next to impossible. We have had to sacrifice and deliberately set time aside to do this effectively. Even with that, however, we still struggle to be as strategic as we would like with differentiating in the classroom.
What does Differentiation Look Like for LD?
I know what differentiation is not, that is the addition of novelties to the classroom intended to substitute for systematically and strategically planned instruction and assessment. Several years ago I was observing a class as part of my teacher coursework and was very interested in the number of ways technology was used in the classroom. At the time it seemed that the teacher had found ways to keep everyone in the class engaged. Later, however, I learned that it was frequently done in that class to substitute for poor or absent planning. The philosophy was that keeping the kids engaged on devices at least looked like learning.
This is not to say that a differentiated classroom would be absent of technology, on the contrary the devices may be an integral part of using assistive technology for learning. However, without meaningful inclusion they are little more than window dressing intended to mask a lack of differentiated instruction.
One class that I observed had students working in stations. That class provided differentiation through a variety of activities. There were students working with their hands, students listening to the teacher, students writing or drawing responses to a story, and students talking to each other in a lit. circle.
In the slide show I referenced earlier the presenter shows what differentiation in Math and Reading would involve. In a nutshell:
- Variety of Materials (based on level and learning preference)
- Variety of Levels of Support and Scaffolding
- Variety of Sensory Opportunities
- Variety of Interaction Opportunities (Inquiry, Sharing)
- Variety of Means to Demonstrate Learning
The IRIS Center. (2010). Differentiated instruction: Maximizing the learning
of all students. Retrieved from https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/module/di/