This week we will read the 1st Chapter of our book study. Use these answers to help you reflect on your perspective:

  1. The chapter presents several common misunderstandings about differentiation. Why do you think such misunderstandings arise? Do you encounter any of these in your own thinking or as you interact with colleagues? Can you identify other ideas about differentiation in your district or school that you believe are misunderstandings?
  2. Discuss your understanding of the terms content, process, and product. What do you think it means to differentiate each of these elements based on student readiness, interest, and learning profile? You might find it helpful to refer to Figure 1.1 on page 18 as a check for your understanding.
  3. In what ways does classroom environment impact instruction? In what ways does instruction impact environment? How do you think assessment can influence environment, curriculum, and instruction? Try to think about the experiences of specific students as you talk about the interrelatedness of these factors.

Copy and Paste into your blog or reply below. Remember there is no specific format required, just share your experiences.

Mrs. P

CREDITS: ASCD Provided Study Guide

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When reading this chapter I kept having flashbacks of my past year. There were many instances in which I was right on target with the author’s perspectives, but not always. As a SPED teacher I feel that I’ve always had to differentiate instruction, so I was not intimidated with the process of differentiating. However, the administration at my new school had a much more formal approach to D.I. than what I had experienced and I was apprehensive about carrying it out this year. Hence, my misunderstandings about D.I. began to arise very early in the year for me.  At the beginning, it was definitely about instructional strategies: how I lectured, re-taught and produced lesson plans considering all learner’s abilities, interests and learning styles. As the weeks passed, I realized that D.I. was much more than the “How To’s” of teaching. It required an awareness of the content I needed to teach and the needs of the students. Needless to say, I gradually developed the D.I. philosophy  as I saw the results and planned for their small groups.

Some colleagues seemed to have it all under control and had developed their bag of tricks to their small group routines. I was jealous! I had to grapple with the daily lessons, limited schedule and daily interruptions during my literacy block. Honestly, it was very hard for me to acclimate myself to a new class routine. I had always thought that I was already doing D.I. through my lesson and tiered assignments, the use of electronic resources and meaningful class and home work practice. I felt that there was no need for additional focused small group instruction besides shared readings or guided reading.

This brings me to the next question regarding content, process and product. I was determined to create my own bag of tricks by gathering materials and activities that I could incorporate into my small groups. Some were great, and some were not and some sessions were a race against the clock. What I did notice many times was that it was the hands-on sessions (requiring more teacher planning)  that engaged students the most and that ditto’s (less teacher planning) promoted distracted students and discipline problems. I quickly learned that not only was the content important, but the process of differentiating was crucial if I wanted to capitalize on the small group sessions. For example, I remember an activity I did about figurative language in which the students had to sort short sentences by type of figurative language.  They had to read it and sort them by category. Nothing fancy, but it was a hit! The students were so excited to read their sentence aloud and place it in the correct category.  Most times they were right but when they weren’t, they corrected each other. In fact, I was thrilled to sit back and witness authentic independent learning happening without the need to intervene to re-direct anyone!

Now, not all the groups went the same way of course. The students with less readiness needed more guidance from me and that’s how the processes developed; I adapted accordingly.  Sometimes the students needed a teacher led mini-lesson, and sometimes they led their own lessons through their interactions. The end result was not only increased scores in assessments, but an increase interest from the students to gather for Differentiated Instruction. My students liked coming to our kidney table and have this intimate time with me and were often disappointed if I didn’t get to meet with their group.

I also wanted to address the last question regarding how the classroom environment impacts instruction and visa-versa. I know that our class environments are more than having a visibly appealing room. It also includes the mood a teacher creates and the exchanges that foster enthusiasm for learning. But I have to say a word or two about how we prepare our classrooms for our students.  It has been my experience that a clutter-free, organized and visually appealing room does have an effect in learning. Students like it when I have a new bulletin board or display their work in a creative manner. I also have seen how rooms with less student appeal seem cold and disconnected from the students and their learning experiences. Now what I mean about a visually appealing room is not that everything needs to be brand new or color coordinated, but rather, the room should promote order and focus. I know that my students can sense my enthusiasm and desire to connect to them by offering them a welcoming learning environment. I want them to see that I take the time to make it a happy place, that they are important to me and that I’m willing to plan and present them with a pleasant place designed for their learning. In the same way, my students can tell by the way our classroom looks and feels that I expect order and focus when learning together.

With regards to how assessment influences environment, curriculum and instruction, I believe that we are over testing our students. A cartoon on the Internet best described this reality with this line:

“Is this the test, to test us for the test  to see if we are ready for the test?”

No matter what your opinion is regarding data-driven instruction, I think most educators will agree that there’s a testing frenzy that has taken over the purpose for instruction. Are we teaching our students content that will prepare them for higher education or are we teaching our students how to survive higher education without the joys of learning?

This year I adjusted my groups according to the district mandated testing results coupled up with my own professional judgement.  I’m not sure that always worked out since I had students that performed poorly (due to apathy) but were good students, and students that were below grade level, but scored within normal limits. It was critical that I selected students for each group that could collaborate and contribute to each other’s learning and benefit from D.I. Sometimes the grouping worked well and sometimes I re-adjusted the groups to make it a more cohesive experience for the students.

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