I recently had the privilege of learning how almost 100 Michigan educators would define differentiation. While every answer was different, every single answer came down to one thing: Individualization. Classrooms today are a beautiful of collage of different learners, personalities, and interests. With classrooms filled with students, each more different than the next, it is important to differentiate student learning to ensure students flourish both academically and personally.
There’s just one problem: time.
Picture classrooms today, you’ll see close to 30 students eagerly waiting to learn, however that’s 30 different students that teachers have to differentiate for…easier said than done. New and even experienced teachers are all asking the same question:
The Four Components of Differentiation
The first thing to look at is differentiating in the classroom. There are four components to differentiation in the classroom:
- Content: What we teach
- Process: How we teach it
- Product: What we expect students to do or show
- Environment: The class culture
The trick is differentiation doesn’t need to occur across all four components simultaneously; choose one content to differentiate and start from there. The three main components of differentiation (content, process, and product) can also be approached at different angles, such as ability, student readiness, interest, and learning profile.
Think of these angles as a lens to see each component. Interest is a yellow lens, and as the lens is applied to content, you’re differentiating what you teach based on what students are interested in. If the sheer size of the class is overwhelming, formative assessment may be a useful strategy—grouping students by ability or one of the other angles previously discussed will cut class size down by changing the size into number of groups rather than number of students.
What do you need to differentiate?
Finding resources to aid in differentiation can be a daunting task. However, it’s important to learn what resources are out there so differentiation can become attainable in the blended classroom. Revisiting the formative assessment idea, there are a number of ways (both “old school” and “new school”) to assess students for their learning.
Two of the most popular old schools ways are conferencing and exit slips. Exit slips are an easy way to see where students are at the end of a lesson: they’re asked a question or two, write down their responses and then give the teacher their slip of paper with their response as they walk out the door. Conferencing is a personalized way to have one on one time with either an individual or a group of students to gauge how they are doing in the class.
There are also a huge number of “new school” or technology-based resources to take advantage of in a blended environment! The most popular ones I’ve been introduced to include: Google Forms, Kahoot!, Seesaw, Padlet, Socrative, and Plickers. I encourage you to check out and experiment with all of these resources. There are also resources for larger scale differentiation—below are two links with a list and description of resources that match with each component of differentiation.
The important thing to remember is that you’re not alone. Educators all over the world are figuring out how to differentiate and the best ways to do it. If you’re stuck, just ask! Find Twitter talks or teacher forums, ask mentor teachers and old college professors, search Google+ groups for common challenges—there’s help out there, you just have to ask. Differentiation is possible, and every step in the right direction is a good step, no matter how small.
Kasey is a student in the WMU School of Education, and her area of studey is Early Childhood/Elementary Education.