Differentiation remains a challenge with preservice teachers I work with, and more experienced educators as well. Planning to meet the needs of diverse learners of varying abilities, possessing the strategies to make that happen, and finding the time to put it all together is certainly a formidable task. Many lesson plan templates include sections to address accommodations and differentiation, but I’d like to suggest another tool—a simple checklist that gets you to consider how your lessons meet the needs, or fail to meet the needs, of the students in your classroom.
First, let's simplify the concept of differentiation (without oversimplifying a potentially complex topic). Essentially, when differentiating instruction, there’s only so many components you can affect. For instance, you can consider your curriculum and the level of rigor, the products or output of the students, the way they are expressing their learning and demonstrating understanding, and the process of instruction and learning (e.g., grouping, independent work, etc.). With that in mind, think about how you can pair a tool with your lesson planning that can help you efficiently plan for varied instructional practices. This tool would basically provide a snapshot, a "big picture," for how you will ensure that students' individual needs are being met, that in other words, not all students are doing the same thing at the same time.
What comes next is a protocol of the tool, which combines everything I have learned about differentiation as a teacher in the past decade. Please feel free to use it.
The Differentiation Tool Directions: Utilize this checklist in conjunction with your lesson planning. Check off areas that you plan to address. The checklist can also be used following a lesson to gather data.
Lesson Design: ______whole group ______small group/pairs ______independent work ______teacher-student conferences
Instructional Materials/Resources: _____ Appropriately varying and leveling of text, worksheets, questioning, prompts etc.
Products (Different Products Produced by Students): _____written responses _____worksheets _____research projects _____experiments _____posters/drawings _____models _____other student expressions ____musical ____verbal ____mathematical ____scientific ____artistic ____theatrical _____other
Processes: ____group discussions/debates ____conferencing ____hands-on ____inquiry ____investigations
Assessment: ___written ____verbal/oral ____artistic expression (i.e., drawing, poetry, drama) ____formative ____summative ____other
Special Populations: ___exceptional students strategy used _____gifted/advanced students strategy used _____English Language Learners strategy used _____struggling students strategy used
While the checklist might appear a bit long, I believe it addresses the major components associated with the differentiated classroom. As this is a fluid document, I would love to hear your feedback on its application as well as suggestions for improvements or alterations.
All the best, Steve