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It’s All About Knowing Your Students and Being Flexible

Imagine going to your doctor to discover the doctor doesn’t take the time to find out who you are, or what your medical history, height, weight, and age are? And then the doctor prescribes aspirin, telling you that would be the cure no matter the ailment. You can probably see where I’m going with this analogy. How can we, as educators, treat our students that way? In order to plan for their success in learning, we must first get to know them, their abilities, interests, and learning styles. Each child is a marvel, unique.

Differentiation requires us to be flexible. First, we need to determine what we want our students to know and be able to do and then we must pre-assess to find out what they already know.

Pre-assessing our students can actually be fun. Turn it into a game. Try this ABC Hunt to pre-assess skills or concepts. Perhaps you are beginning a reading unit using fairy tales in order for students to recount stories to determine the central message/theme and explain how it is revealed through key details in the text.

Differentiating for the varying needs, abilities, and learning styles of students can seem overwhelming but it’s not as difficult as you think. Use any of these strategies to engage your students while differentiating content, process, and product.

Ways to differentiate CONTENT (the knowledge, concepts, and skills):

  • Use reading materials at varying readability levels

  • Recording text

  • Use spelling or vocabulary lists at readiness levels

  • Present ideas through auditory and visual means

  • Use reading buddies

  • Meet with small groups to re-teach an idea or skill or to extend the thinking or skills of advanced learners

  • Color-code materials

Ways to differentiate PROCESS (how students make sense of the content):

Ways to differentiate PRODUCT (how students show understanding or ability):

  • Give students options of how to express required learning

  • Use rubrics

  • Allow students to work alone or in small groups

  • Encourage students to create their own product assignments as long as the assignments contain required elements

Let’s celebrate our students’ uniqueness while setting them up for success. We owe it to our students! As Henry David Thoreau expressed so beautifully,

“There has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything.”

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