Saturday, March 8, 2014

Meat & Potatoes

Today our district had a great opportunity to take differentiation to new heights.  As I sat in on the morning presentation I listened and I agreed with many things John shared.  He talked about the need for a "Growth Mindset", he talked about "Student Engagement", he talked about "High Quality, Tier 1 Instruction" and he talked about "Relationships".  I agree with ALL of this!  As I walked away I had a feeling that he turned the rest of the job over to us.  We all understand the importance of differentiation, but now we need to figure out the "Meat & Potatoes" of how that looks in the classroom.

Let's put our cards on the table right away...Differentiation is not a BUZZ word.  Differentiation is here to stay.  

I believe educators want to differentiate and meet students' needs.  I just don't think all educators know how.  So this is my follow-up to John Sougstad's presentation on the need to differentiate.

First, as an educator you need to be willing to fail.  You will have days when you miss the target, but you can learn from those mistakes and improve.

Second, start small.  If you attempt to overhaul you will feel overwhelmed. 

Third, truly understand your students!  What makes them tick? What are their triggers? What are their passions? To find this out give your students surveys, conference with them one-on-one, go to their extracurricular events, pay close attention to the books they read, and analyze their body language.

Fourth, review the data.  It's vital to have a clear picture of your students' strengths and weaknesses. Analyze test scores, formative assess daily, conference and pay close attention to student confidence.

Fifth, give students choices.  Choices allow for independence and ownership.  This includes book choices, writing topics and flexibility to work with others or solo.

Sixth, as I've mentioned, differentiation can occur in your delivery methods or how students show what they know.  This greatly depends on your comfort level.  You can adjust the content for students.  You can also adjust the activities the students do.  As far as students showing what they know, the options are infinite.  My suggestion is to think about the multiple intelligences.  I tried to give suggestions to students based on the multiple intelligences.  My suggestions were always designed to encourage, not enable.

Seventh, collaborate with others.  If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say they were busy...let's just say I'd be running on the beaches of Maui!  Resources are all around us.  They could be across the hall, on twitter, checking out blogs, looking at iTunesU and that is only scratching the surface.  If you think you're the only one that is dealing with differentiation you're wrong.  Every educator is trying to meet student needs.

Eighth, ask for feedback.  Student engagement will tell you "most" of what you need to know.  I also think it would be beneficial to ask colleagues, parents, students and administrators for constructive feedback on how differentiation looks in your classroom.  If you have a willingness to ask that shows a "Growth" Mindset.

Ninth, enjoy your planning and preparation.  Differentiation takes time and a passion to plan.  The days of a ONE-SIZE LESSON are gone.  Years ago you may have been able to complete lesson plans in a short amount of time.  It you are intent on meeting students at their instructional level, the planning will take time.  The Boy Scout motto is - Be Prepared!

Tenth, don't give up if it doesn't work!  Anything worth doing is worth doing well. The best things in life take hard work.  My favorite is - F.A.I.L. - First Attempt In Learning  

Some examples of differentiation include Project Based Learning, Genius Hour, Open-Ended Science Projects, Free Writing (open topic), reading by interest/passion.

Differentiation in the classroom takes time.  Let's not lose sight of the goal which is, What's Best for Kids.  I'm positive that we all can admit that meeting students at their level is what is best for kids!

If nothing else I hope that differentiation has you thinking...has you reflecting.  Are you meeting all student needs?  I remember my first couple years in the classroom.  I remember believing that the mark of a good teacher was to have grades ranging from A's to D's.  This range showed that I was challenging, it proved I wasn't a pushover in the classroom.  How wrong I was!  Shouldn't my goal have been to have all students succeed?  Every classroom has a wide variety of academic levels, but this isn't about equal, this is about helping all students be successful.

What are your thoughts?  Did I miss something?  I'd love to hear feedback on how you differentiate the learning in your classroom.

This Week's Big Question:  What does differentiation look like in your classroom/school?


Saturday, March 8th:  Happy BDay to Jen Reed
Sunday, March 9th:  Happy BDay to Micki Archer
Monday, March 10th:  1:1 Tech Meeting at 1:15pm
Monday, March 10th: Minecraft Club 4pm-5pm
Tuesday, March 11th: Lockdown in the PM (last week's was cancelled because of the assembly)
Tuesday, March 11th:  Minecraft Club 4pm-5pm
Wednesday, March 12th:  Assembly grades K-2
Wednesday, March 12th:  Minecraft Club 3pm-4pm
Wednesday, March 12th:  String Team after school
Thursday, March 13th:  Reading Logs Due
Thursday, March 13th:  Happy BDay to Lisa Prichard
Friday, March 14th:  SportsWear/College Gear dress-up day
Friday, March 14th:  Emily Sioma our Jackson Rosequeen Visits in the PM

Articles Worth Reading:

We'll Be Counting Stars @Jonharper70bd

How are you telling your classroom or school story? @BrandEDPodcast @Joesanfelippofc @TonySinanis

Videos Worth Watching:

Did You Know 2014! Powerful...just watch! (8 min)

Brotherly Love!  If you want to see a touching story of love, determination and teamwork this is it! (10 min)

Need some inspiration?  Check this 4 min clip out!

Troy Gilpin's #iCreate song (2 min)


  1. Thanks for this post that has me thinking about the ways I use relationship and differentiate with students. You've covered the bases quite well! One thing I would add is that a sense of playfulness and humor really helps in sharing yourself with students and getting them to trust you and take risks. If we model our own mistakes/failings and show how we can recover from them, students will do the same.

  2. Appreciate you chiming in Joan. I completely agree with you that humor and play are an integral part in developing relationships.

    As for developing risk takers, I believe many educators say it...but few model it. The fact of the matter is, kids don't want to look bad or feel dumb in front of their peers. I can't stress enough the need to create a true classroom community. This allows for risk taking and mistakes. As I was told yesterday, the best advice we can give kids is: Go out and make some great mistakes today!

  3. When I was "taught" differentiation in California in the 90's, it meant giving choices to students in their "learning strength's". It meant small groups learning the same things different ways. I was taught that differentiation meant letting them "choose" the activities and usually knowing how many students needed to "tell" you how they "know" the material. It came from the Special Education realm. Let's ask Sarah. :)

    1. Well said Susan. I agree choice and allowing students to show what they know are ways to incorporate differentiation. Your last point brings a smile to my face. We should ask Sara. She is constantly differentiating for all 17 of her students. What a terrific resource that is with us every day!

      Thanks for sharing Susan.

  4. Ben I really enjoyed reading this article yesterday. But after reading it a second time I truly think you have a book here. You already have the chapter titles and everything. Let me know if you want a co-author.

  5. Thank you so much for mentioning that center-based instruction (my favorite go-to) isn't differentiation until you change the content in those centers to meet students' needs. This is a reminder that I needed! I usually make the length of the centers fluctuate based on the group I have at my small-group instruction center. However, I need to get better about totally changing the activity that students are doing or improve at making levels to an assignment based on student ability that that time. Thank you for getting me thinking of how I can work on this area!

  6. Great post, Ben. I totally agree! When kids come into our classrooms with such a huge difference in learning styles, prior knowledge, and what is modeled at home, differentiation is the ONLY thing that makes sense! The thing that makes it most difficult, I think, is the fact that we will, at least several times, fail in our attempts. That's a hard thing for teachers who want to be sure and "get it right" but a necessary step to reach every single kiddo in our classroom.