Differentiated Teaching?

One of my self-imposed homework assignments this summer was to read The Differentiated Classroom by Carol Ann Tomlinson. Right now I am feeling a little overwhelmed. How can I possibly tailor every lesson to each individual student…especially when I teach over a hundred students? It’s impossible!

What am I already doing? Some of the strategies offered I already have in place. I currently use portfolio assessment with a common rubric but with a place for personal goals as well. And when I grade writing, I am looking for improvement of the goal. I also incorporate activities where students can pick their own topic or product. If asking open ended questions, I give students a bank of questions that they can choose from. Maybe I’m not as far behind as I thought.

What don’t I have to do?The biggest surprise when reading this is that I don’t have to differentiate EVERYTHING. In my head I pictured a classroom where every activity, every test, every everything was differentiated, but Tomlinson says I don’t have to. And she’s the expert. But she does say I should do it with purpose. One part of the book where I really saw myself was when she described “hazy lessons.” Activities where students do a project for the sake of the project not to learn something. Hate to admit it, but I’ve done that.

Where should I start? Since I don’t have to differentiate everything, I need to decide where I should start adding changes. I am planning on gearing my classroom around big questions and problem based learning projects; I can gear the products to give students choice in both what they do and how they do it. I can also provide learning contracts or agendas (other strategies from the book) to help students know what they need to do on a given work day.  These all fit in with what I am currently doing or plan to do this year without me having to make major changes to fit the strategy.

What I won’t do?I don’t think I will start adjusting tests, yet. I don’t give that many tests and the ones I give are usually like quizzes so this isn’t as defiant as it sounds. I also don’t think I am going to differentiate the portfolios any more even though they do only have one rubric. I think Six-Traits works for all levels. I will also have every student keep the same kind of classbook/binder, although I am still rethinking what I want to have in it. These I need to grade quickly and if they were too differentiated, that would be hard.

Is it possible to do all this? Is it possible to differentiate instruction for 100+ students? Let’s give it a shot.

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