Hello! My name is Heather from My Life at the Pencil Sharpener, and I am so excited to have the wonderful opportunity Rachel has given me to connect with you today!
We have all heard the word “differentiation.” It is a part of our daily lives, our evaluation systems, and for some of us…our nightmares! The word, to some educators, invokes a horrifying feeling that tells us differentiation is another way to make our lives miserable and add more work to our never-ending load. If this is you, then I hope this post will be of service to you. I am not an expert on differentiation, but my 10 years as a K-3 teacher in an urban school district, along with two years as an intervention specialist, have led me on a journey where I have made plenty of mistakes and had some great success. I am a firm believer that differentiation is not only best practice, but it also will actually make your job EASIER in the long run. Today I will share some tips and tricks to give you new tools to make the task of differentiation beneficial for all involved.
Tip #1: Start Small
Big things often have small beginnings. We all know you have a TON on your plate! Don’t stress yourself out by trying to do it all at one time. Find an aspect of a differentiated classroom that intrigues you and start with that. Get comfortable with your new teaching tool and feel like an expert at it before adding something new. Here is the very first thing I did many years ago to begin to differentiate in my classroom. Although I have changed many things and added new ideas each year, this has remained constant for me.
Early Finisher Choice Board: Gone are the days when students who finish early constantly have their hand up asking, “What can I do now?” By implementing this simple strategy, your students will be actively engaged for longer periods of time, and you will be free to help students who need it most! I have a choice board for both math and reading time. When a student finishes early, they consult the board and choose an activity to engage in. I introduce these activities to the class one at a time, and we practice them so that I know they can be independent with them. These are great because you can add new activities from time to time and change it up so that your students are doing a constant spiral review of important concepts. How is this differentiation? Student Choice – they are in control of what activities they choose; therefore, it is more meaningful to them. If you look on Pinterest, then you are bound to find hundreds of adorable bulletin board displays for early finishers.
Personally, I keep it simple and have two small pocket charts on by board (the little ones you can find in Target’s dollar section around August). This makes it easy for me to switch things around to keep things fresh and easy for students to see. My materials for the activities are arranged in tubs or on bookshelves. Some of my students’ favorite choice activities for language arts include: type and write word wall words (using old computer keyboards), I SPY word wall words (using empty tennis ball cans filled with various colorful materials, along with sight words individually typed and placed into the can for kids to find), file folder grammar games, monthly research projects (I rotate through a variety of topics each month and have lots of books, fact cards, websites, etc. for students to pick from to do a little research and write facts about what they have learned), and rotating book projects (depending on the book we are reading, I include a variety of extra fun book projects to extend their thinking). Favorite math choice activities include: math scavenger hunt books (laminated books I created for students to find things in the room that display their knowledge of math concepts), color by code math fact sheets, area and perimeter monsters, magic number (I change the number weekly and students come up with as many ways to make that number as they can. For example, 12 could be 1 ten and 2 ones, 12 ones, 10+2, 4×3, 20-8, etc.), catalog crazy (students look through catalogs and find three items they want to buy. Next, they calculate how much money they would need and determine the bills and coins needed for exact change), and a variety of games that rotate based on concepts taught.
Tip #2: Assess Smart
Tip #3: There Is No Right/Wrong Answer
Tip #4: Pat Yourself on the Back – You Are Probably Already Differentiating