Differentiation: One Piece of the Independence Struggle




 In planning this lesson, my goal was to modify it enough so that it would be highly effective for all students. Several students were way above grade level in reading; several were slightly above grade level; several were slightly below and a few students were significantly below grade level in reading in this seventh grade class. One of the students who read above level had an IEP and was on the spectrum with Asbergers Syndrome. Although he was way above level in reading, his writing suffered poorly.

 Prior to the lesson planning, I had the opportunity to assess the students’ reading and writing. I knew the students’ strengths and areas in which they could grow. As stated in Setting the Stage for Differentiation: 3 Ways to Assess Your Class by Lily Jones, “The important thing is administering assessments that give you useful data. Once you have that data, you’ll be able to group kids by ability or mixed-ability, spending more time with students who are struggling.”

 Students were informed that they would be revisiting the literary works of Yeats and Shakespeare and would be using skills and strategies to complete the differing parts of the lesson.  

I used a document camera with the two poems, The Song of the Wandering Aengus by W.B. Yeats and Sonnet 43 by William Shakespeare. The poems had previously been annotated and discussed for literary purposes by the seventh grade teacher. A differentiation was having students sit in front of the white board, because they could view the annotations clearer and take a second look at the annotations to think aloud, turn and talk and discuss openly their interpretive thoughts to discover similarities, contrasts and qualities that both poems shared. We agreed that there were many options in interpreting and to keep an open mind when listening to others’ inferences and analyses. They also were aware that they would soon be applying those interpretations to an anchor chart, also at the white board with choices to make between shared qualities, likenesses and differences.

 After discussing viewpoints and agreeing to disagree (they thought this was humorous), they moved over, still on the floor in front of the white board, to take in the Venn diagram and the three categories for placing their annotations in. Some students, I noticed earlier, had already been eyeing the diagram after a quick talk about someone’s annotation choice. Placing the diagram in the same general area as the annotations viewed at the white board was in itself a differentiation, in that it allowed for transfer of ideas discussed of the annotations from the viewing area right over to a category (for those who looked back and forth). As the Lily Jones article on differentiation stated, “It’s not only important to assess what your students know, but also how they best learn.”

Students, slowly at first, then with more time, faster and faster, began making their choices for comparing qualities, contrasting qualities and shared, using their annotations made earlier. As they moved back to their normal seating arrangement, they noticed the papers on their desks.

 They had been given a set of written instructions to complete the lesson, which was to write a three-paragraph summary, using the categories of comparing qualities, contrasting qualities and shared qualities, to tell how they had grouped their annotations. After reading silently, they would take their set of directions, which included a rubric for the writing they would complete (they knew to aim high for the “4”), along with a list of phrases that meant compare, contrast, shared to the teacher’s desk, where they would pick up a card with their name on it, turn it over to discover their symbol and wait to find someone else who would turn over a symbol matching theirs; whoever did would be a part of their strategy-study team.

 With the exception of the student with Asbergers, teams were chosen by their reading levels—a strong reader was always paired with a weaker reader and a middle-of-the-road reader. In the case of the student with the IEP, he had another very strong reader in his group to support his efforts as well, and one who was already a team member from their normal grouping of desks, one whom he felt comfortable with. This differentiation in grouping was done to give the not-so-strong readers a better way to comprehend what needed to be read, studied and discussed. As in 4 Proven Strategies for Differentiating Instruction: Helping Each Child learn Within the Elementary Classroom by Jill White, the groups all were planned this way to give every student a balanced scenario for optimum learning to occur. Jill said, I also plan out whom I will address with some of my questions, trying to include each individual in the discussion and helping each one be successful in their response.” And in planning for groups, at least one “group is made up of partners who work together to figure out the problem.”

After talking about how they planned to use the information, groups filtered back to their individual seats. There they found the “Summary: Contrast and Compare” paper they were to complete. The instructions for completion had been previously given and further discussed so no instructions were on the summary paper. There was no time limit for completing the summary; this was planned as a differentiation as well, as I was very aware that some students would need extra time, owing to slower pace of working and even thought-processing differences. Here, they would think and write, think and write, individually. They had met as a large group, in small groups and now on their own to apply their learning. In Tomlinson and Allan’s book, Chapter 1, Understanding Differentiated Instruction: Building a Foundation for Leadership, it is stated, “In a flexibly grouped classroom, a teacher plans student working arrangements that vary widely and purposefully over a relatively short period of time. Such classrooms utilize whole-class, small-group, and individual explorations.”