Differentiation is not a new term or idea, yet it is often something that is difficult to achieve. Very few of you have leveled resources available and ready to go for every skill you need to teach. I’m going to share with you some tips for how to level any resources.
Leveling down. To quickly differentiate, many of you probably resort to the old faithful routine of eliminating questions from an assignment. While yes, that is considered differentiation, ask yourself…. is it really? You are simply removing questions, not leveling them. To level an assignment down for struggling learners, break down the skill. If your students can’t solve multi-step equations, why give them a multi-step assignment with fewer questions? Consider instead a two-step equations or simplifying expressions assignment. Identify where the weakness is and try to build that up first. If a student doesn’t understand a skill, it won’t matter if they have 1 question to solve or 10 – they won’t get them correct.
Take a look at the equation 4+2(3x – 5) = -18… how could you level this down? You could (a) eliminate the 4 so the equation has one fewer step and the most common error will be avoided. You can (b) eliminate the = -18 so they just have to simplify the expression. You could also (c) scaffold the steps for them. By doing either of these things, you are helping them build up to the skill of solving multi-step equations and you will be able to identify exactly where their struggle lies. When leveling down, think about what skill(s) could be missing that is causing the current skill to be challenging.
Leveling up! So often when we hear or speak of differentiation we are referring to trying to meet the needs of struggling learners. Often we forget about the high level students. Think about your “early finisher” work. Is it really designed to be an extension and a challenge? Or, is it just something to kill time that gives repetitive practice? Just as leveling down doesn’t mean simply removing questions, leveling up does not mean just adding more work. If students blow through an assignment correctly, it means the work was simple and not challenging. Giving them more of the same will not challenge them. If anything, it will probably bore them. Instead, increase the rigor of the assignment. Add integers or fractions in place of whole numbers. Add more steps. Make the figure more complicated.
Let’s go back to the equation 4+2(3x – 5) = -18… how could you level this up? You could (a) add a variable to the term on the right. You could (b) make two fo the numbers a fraction. How about (c) making it into an inequality? Or, (d), adding a second variable, having the students solve for y and then graphing? Doing some of these things may result in ugly answers, and that’s ok! If your students are ready to solve more advanced equations, they’re probably ready to understand that every answer isn’t going to be a perfect integer number or a simple decimal.
Can you level each and every assignment? Absolutely not. By informally assessing, you’ll know when leveling is appropriate and when it isn’t. If you have an interventionist or math coach – use them here! Have their help leveling problems and get their input whenever possible.
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