Differentiation – The teacher acquires and uses specific knowledge about students’ cultural, individual intellectual and social development and uses that knowledge to adjust their practice by employing strategies that advance student learning.
Using differentiation, teachers can provide a more equitable learning environment for their students. In the classroom where I am a student intern there is a wide spectrum of learners represented. A few students in my classroom are excelling above grade level, some of my students are meeting grade level benchmarks and too many are below grade level. In addition to academic differences, I also have an exceedingly large population of students who are English Language Learners (ELL). Therefore, it is essential for me, as an instructor, to include differentiation for my students in order to provide the most effective instruction possible.
One example of differentiation that occurs in my internship classroom is the use of a math word wall (Figure 1). This math word wall provides essential support and differentiation in instruction for my students who are ELL as well as students with math, reading and writing IEPs. Through the use of a math word wall, I am providing pre-instruction of essential math vocabulary words and a visual aid. Multi-sensory input such as a math word wall is a critical aspect of supporting students who are ELL. This is supported by research done by Stephen Krashen, who’s Theory of Second Language Acquisition states that those who are leaning a new language must have multiple sensory inputs to become proficient speakers (Krashen, 2009).
Other ways I incorporate differentiation in my classroom include the use of kinesthetic activities to support my students who learn best using manipulative. From the beginning of my internship it was clear most of my students learn best through discovery and they love art. By providing students an opportunity to utilize these strengths in every academic discipline, I provide differentiation for my unique classroom demographic. One such example of this is the use of Cheeze-its to find the area of a rectangle. Not only does this activity support learning related to the 2nd grade level math standards, but also is fun and engaging because it is tailored specifically for my students. Another opportunity I took to utilize differentiation was with an activity I call “Pattern Block Art”. By manipulating pattern blocks to create a piece of art, students practiced another 2nd grade math standard of combing shapes.
When implementing differentiation in a classroom, a teacher must consider the strengths and cultural knowledge of their students in order for it to be an effective instructional aid. Using a math word wall and manipulatives have been both engaging and helpful to students during math instruction because of my student’s background knowledge and interests.
Krashen, S. (2009). Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition (Internet Addition). doi:http//www.sdkrashen.com/content/books/principles_and_practice.pdf
Assessment – The teacher uses multiple data elements (both formative and summative) to plan, inform and adjust instruction and evaluate student learning.
To provide the best instruction possible, a good teacher uses data to inform their instruction. This data can be collected at a variety of different points throughout lessons and even entire units. In our classroom, my mentor teacher and I utilize formative, summative and even student voice assessments to support the learning of our unique class demographic. By collecting data at various points throughout my lesson and unit, I can have an accurate depiction of student ability and confidence in their work.
Figure 1 and 2 are graphs I created to represent data collected from a student voice assessments (including a pre-assessment and a summative assessment) given to my students. I used data points collected from these assessments to guide and support my instruction for a unit on geometry in my 2nd grade class and the following unit. At the beginning of my geometry unit, I presented my students with the three learning targets they would be focusing on throughout the unit and asked them to assess their ability to comprehend and implement the learning targets (Figure 1). Because my 2nd graders have difficulty with writing, I presented them with a scale of smiley faces to rate themselves and quantified the scale (1-5). The data in the graph demonstrates that at the beginning of the unit, my students did not feel very comfortable with the learning targets. This information was helpful to me because I could focus more heavily on the learning targets that students felt less comfortable with. Presenting students with the learning targets at the very beginning also supported my students by priming them to consider what they would be learning ahead of time. What is important to consider in Figure 1 is the difference between student responses at the beginning of the unit and student responses at the end. It is clear students felt much more confidant in their ability to comprehend and implement all three learning targets from the unit. An interesting point related to this data is how positively it correlated with student achievement on both the pre and post assessment.
Figure 2 demonstrates student scores on their pre-assessment and their post assessment. Just as students felt less confidant in their ability to comprehend and implement learning targets at the beginning of the unit, their actual performance on the pre-assessment positively correlated with these beliefs. By using the information collected on the pre-assessment I was able to tailor my instruction to meet the specific needs of my students, focusing on particular concepts my students showed struggle. As a result, students demonstrated (Figure 2) a much stronger understanding of the concepts taught throughout the unit and earned significantly higher scores on their post summative assessment.
Although not summarized in graphs included in this post, the use of formative assessment is also essential to instruction and was something I used regularly throughout this unit. Implementing formative assessment can be easily integrated into any lesson and is as simple as asking students to rate their understanding of a task using a thumbs up or a thumbs down. By considering student responses to instructions, a teacher can quickly reteach a topic that students might show signs of struggle with or feel less confident about, which I did often during this unit. Other forms of formative assessment which I used throughout this unit included questioning students during independent work time as well as circulating. By using a combination of these formative assessments, I was able to collect data on student ability to inform my teaching and support student achievement.