Whether it was to your whole class or to a small group, whether it was the introduction of a new reading strategy, a step in the process of writing an organized paragraph, or how to differentiate between two tricky spelling patterns, you did it. You've done the modeling, you've guided them through some examples, and now you want to give your students a task with which to practice what you taught them.
You could give all your students the exact same task and send them back to their seat while you sit at your desk and bask in the glory of your engaging lesson.
But what might work better, what might allow the task to benefit each and every student and the various levels of understanding they have at this moment, is to differentiate the task.
Yeah right, you scoff. In a dream world. Who has time to do that? At least, who has time to do that consistently?
Differentiating a task can sometimes take quite a bit of thought and planning. But there are many simple yet effective ways to tailor that task to meet each of your student's needs. Here are 8 practical ways:
As you transition from the teaching to the task, send students off to work BUT invite them to stay with you for a few extra minutes to get started, if they need it. It might sound like this: "Boys and girls, if you feel like you're ready to give this a try, go ahead and get started at your desk. If you need some help getting started, you can stay here with me." The differentiation comes in because of your extra guidance with the group of students who stay behind. The great thing is, as soon as you release students to work, you are left with exactly the students who need additional help, ready to go. No moving around, no time wasted figuring out who should stay.
I often prefer to have students find a partner with a similar level of understanding, creating a more equal partnership for the task. Then I can float around to the pairs who might still struggle.
How to do this quickly? Before starting the task, ask students to think about how confident they feel in the skill, on a 1 to 3 scale. Hold that many fingers up and find a partner with the same number. Sure, it takes some trust in students' ability to self-assess, but it puts some purpose behind the partnerships.
Arranging students in small groups can also work well. Institute a few simple procedures: "Boys and girls, work independently at your table group. If you need help, say to your group, 'I need some coaching on such-and-such. Is anyone available?' Remember that coaching is not the same as giving the answer." This small-group-coaching structure works really well during a math assignment.
Sometimes a partner isn't even necessary. I've had students benefit from simply saying their thinking/answer/idea to the wall prior to writing it down. Yes, literally, to the wall. They get up, go over to a wall, and quietly talk out loud, listening to how their own words sound, rehearsing what they are about to write.
Adding an element of drawing isn't just a way to differentiate a task down, either. For students who are able to record their answers in writing right away, try requiring them to then choose the best way to graphically organize their thinking, whether it's a t-chart, web, flow chart, or a way of their own, this extra metacognitive step gets students thinking about their thinking, solidifying their understanding further.
A check-in is also an easy way to differentiate for your higher kids. It gives you a chance to push them farther and challenge them to think deeper in ways you weren't able to do during a lesson to the whole class.
Without any additional prep, have these students apply the new skill/strategy to something in which they have choice. If it's a reading skill/strategy, could they apply it to the self-selected book they are reading? If it's a writing skill/strategy, could they apply it to their own piece of writing they've been working on?
Reader's Notebook Response Pages. I have sets available to use with Literature and with Informational Text.
As you see in the example above, the each response page comes in three versions, each at a different level of sophistication.
Bask in that.
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