- Bringing Project Based Learning to our Classroom - August 12, 2018
- Keep the Engagement Alive: Start the Year with Purpose - August 5, 2018
- It's Our Fault: A Teacher's Confession - March 18, 2018
- Keeping Your Teaching Real: A Teacher's Role - March 11, 2018
- Sketch Notes in the Elementary Classroom - February 15, 2017
- Teach From the Heart - February 9, 2017
- Who is the Teacher: School or Family? - January 11, 2017
- Dear President Elect Trump, From Your Teachers - November 17, 2016
- Let them Be Children - October 21, 2016
- Print Resources: Great Tools for Kids - October 17, 2016
When I was an elementary student, many years ago, I was a quick learner. I remember sitting in the classroom and looking for ways to challenge myself. I was often reading/working ahead or helping others around me. I was thrilled when I made it into junior high and was able to take upper level math classes. Here, for the first time, I found some challenge and was able to dive into new information. In college I earned on a dual degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education. Learning about the process of learning children go through was interesting and something that empowered me as I became a teacher. Preschool education was based on differentiation and I was constantly thinking of ways to apply this to an elementary classroom.
As I began teaching I was always aware of differences in children. It has always been my goal to help students wherever they are in their learning development. Before "differentiation" was the buz, I was doing this in my classroom. As the idea of guided reading was starting to be implemented, I devised a way to differentiate math. In the late 1990's I had students work on skills at their desks and play games from boxes I had leveled so I could meet with small groups. This was no small feat in a first-grade-classroom, but it made learning meaningful for my kids. It was worth all the effort.
Differentiation can be done in many ways. You can differentiate content, process or outcome. It is important to find what works for you and your kids. It is important to decide what is manageable. In math instruction process is an important differentiation piece. Luckily I work with an amazing group of teachers and we have developed a math model over the past few years that works for us.
Today my first-grade model has been expanded and we are using it as a fourth-grade team. Before each unit we pre-test our entire group of students. Looking at the data the students are then sorted into groups. The groups needing the most direct instruction are smaller and the groups showing mastery of the subject and therefore needing extension are larger. We use para support for each classroom where needed and we also have reading assistants we are able to put with the upper groups. This allows for classes of 32-36 students and two teachers. After the groups are made students attend their math block for an hour a day with their designated teacher. Students are being taught with a group of students having similar needs in each math content area. Each teacher is able to go at a pace to match these needs for all students in the group. We are differentiating the process used but the content and assessed outcomes are the same in each classroom.
Our planning is done together as a team. We make certain we are teaching our fourth-grade standards and we look at the standards that need reviewed from lower grades in the intensive rooms or extended into higher grades in the advanced rooms. We each teach the same lessons, but they look different. The tools, levels of scaffolding provided and levels of questioning are different. It is exciting to see this through the eyes of an administrator or special education teacher when they walk though or assist with lessons. They can see the connections and development from intensive classrooms through benchmark and advanced classrooms. I have had conversations with our principal and special education teacher which shows me we are on the right path. The kids are using the same vocabulary in each room, but they are getting it at their level. And the kids LOVE it. We do too.
Adjustments are often made. Formative assessment happen during our instruction and if we see students need to be moved to a new group that is done. With 140 students this year and 6 teachers we are happily finding ways to make this differentiation work. At the end of a unit we post-test to determine mastery. We have had huge success with 138/142 students meeting the standards on our latest unit. The challenge we continue to face is how to meet the needs of the small percentage of students who need extra time. We have not found the perfect answer to that question yet.
The process is simple enough to be manageable while effective. Each unit students are pre-tested and post-tested. We try to pre-test on a day we cannot have math groups due to schedules, special events, or other issues that disrupt elementary schedules. We spend a teaming period sorting students based on grades. Behavior and learning styles are considered as we place students in each group. We do not, however, hold a student to a group because they are "low" or "high" in math. Students are placed by their scores and given formative assessments to monitor their learning. The students are placed in a classroom to provide them with meaningful work. Instead of the desk work and self-leveled game boxes of my first attempt years ago, with the help of my wonderful colleagues I am now able to do this on a larger more effective scope. This approach to teaching mathematics is allowing us to best meet the needs of our students with differentiation. The skills are the same. The standards are the same. The basis of the lessons are the same. But we are changing the tools, pace and instructional support to provide success and extension. Differentiation allows us to move all students to meaningful work. It is exciting to hear the students talk about math and grow their skills one unit at a time.