What Differentiation Looks Like: one size doesn’t fit all

I am a learner! I wear that mantle with pride. I know that there is more to learn, even after thirty-eight years of teaching and now in my fourth year of subbing.

February will be a busy month of subbing. Already, 3s, 4s, Kinder, 1st and 2nd grade classes are “penciled in” on my calendar (digital calendar I say smiling; long story). With all these different ages and grades I’ve come to see “differentiation” in action. Differentiation as described here, is quite extensive. In 3s and 4s kids amaze at what they know, what they can do, what they’re learning, how they know, how they do, how they learn. Some enjoy circle time, some readily settle down, some need to move their bodies as they sit on the rug, some cry when the toy they want means they have to wait their turn and some seem happiest and most engaged in the outdoor space, climbing, running and playing in the sand. And they’re all learning as we recognize their needs and wants are different. How they approach their world is different, how we make the time and space to help them thrive within our environment as we appreciate their differences; we look at differentiation as the engine to their train. Then kinders with more language, more stamina to participate in literacy and math activities, thrive in the block area, building with manipulatives, sharing their joy in their successes, filled with wonder they may need help in figuring it out. Not the same help; differentiation allows them opportunities to be successful at their own pace. We go into 1st, the ante is up. Reading and math groups, writing All About books you look around and see it’s not all the same. Some working on math with ten frames, with counters, with paper and pencil. Some stay with manipulatives longer, they’re getting there, we’re giving them opportunities for success in ways that work for them. Once again the differentiation allows for opportunities to be successful. 1sts love to read whether with a buddy, by themselves reading picture books, fiction/non-fiction, online or tangible, turn the pages paper, they’re eager to share what they’ve learned. Writing time, some start right away, some look around, some look for help. Once again we know what they need, we know about the reluctant starter; how much is the time, the day, the lesson. We know what’s needed because we listen to what they’re saying. Some write words, some phrases, some sentences. Some are excited to illustrate, to tell their story that way. We guide them when stuck in a rut. We help in a way that gives them opportunities to be successful. 2nds have grown by leaps and bounds. They surprise with how far they’ve come. And they remind us how independent they are, until they’re not! But we quickly look to see what’s needed, what we can do to scaffold the assignment, the learning. We remember that when we differentiate we give our students opportunities for success.

This article includes two great videos from Larry Ferlazzo on differentiation

Some of my differentiation has been organic to be truthful. Most of my teaching career, before subbing, was in early childhood and kindergarten classes. Seeing the struggle I tried to follow the childrens’ needs. I understood behavior issues impact learning just as lessons that were too challenging impacted behavior. Have you been successful in differentiating your students learning tasks? What has been the biggest challenge? Is this an idea that you have or have not implemented?

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