Differentiation: Not Just a Buzzword

Differentiation is the cornerstone of many gifted education programs.  That’s certainly true here at TJ!  The premise is simple:  know the kids in your class and strive to meet their needs.  The delivery, however, is quite a bit trickier.  With 20 or 25 students in a class, it can be tough for a teacher to tailor offerings for every single lesson, five days a week.

In spite of the challenges, I see differentiation happening all the time.  But what exactly does it look like?  Hopefully this post will provide a small glimpse into the world of differentiation…  When the notion of “differentiation” first came on the scene, the focus was on altering the content of a lesson, the process by which students might access that content, and the product students might use to communicate their understanding of the content.  Current thinking in gifted education includes differentiating the learning environment.

In Mrs. Kelly’s fourth grade class, students had the content of a lesson differentiated seamlessly the other day.  While learning about the five regions of Virginia, students read from three different resources.  The depth and complexity of the resources met the students at their reading levels and ability to comprehend material.

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Second graders in Mrs. Smith’s class are certainly no strangers to differentiation, either!  On Tuesday, I participated in a lesson on money that was a great example of what a lesson differentiated in the area of process should be.  Mrs. Smith began the lesson by posing the following question:  Sam saw a toy car which cost $1.83.  What coins could he use to pay for the toy car?  She then allowed students the freedom to respond in any way they chose.  For some kids, this meant counting out manipulative coins and carefully tracing them into their math notebooks.  Others were able to move past the concrete and list the coins needed without the manipulatives.  Still others were able to represent their responses using mathematical notation.  So, while one child drew 36 nickels and 3 pennies, another wrote out 18 x .10 = $1.80 + .03 = $1.83.   Some of Mrs. Smith’s students found one answer, others found 10.  All in the same lesson!

Fifth graders from Mrs. Goodwin’s class will have plenty of opportunity to experience differentiation this year as she works to implement Google’s Genius Hour in her class.  After selecting a passion project, her students will spend classroom free time researching their topic as they work to become experts.   Part of the process is to share what they’ve learned – using whatever product they choose.  Versions of Genius Hour have been used with great success in the past here at TJ.  Not only are the students fully invested in their topic of choice, but the enthusiasm spills over into the rest of the day as well!  I’ve seen Food Network style TV shows brought to the class by a student studying cheese, modernized Shakespearean plays, and more!

And in Ms. Mavity’s third grade class, the students are in good hands.  While watching a math lesson earlier this week, it was clear to see that the learning environment in her room will facilitate future differentiation, for it is both calm and purposeful.  She has already helped her students see the value in digging deeper and justifying their thinking.  Over and over I heard Ms. Mavity ask her students to explain what they meant, to describe how they arrived at an answer, or to look at the problem in a different way.

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One thought on “Differentiation: Not Just a Buzzword

  1. Pingback: It’s a Mystery — First Grade Reading | A Space for Ace

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