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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Have you ever tried on a "one-size-fits-all" article of clothing? If you happen to be of average height and average weight, then perhaps this size worked for you. However, if you happen to be shorter, taller, weigh less, or weigh more than the average person, then the odds are that the one size that supposedly fits all does not work for you!

The same goes for one-size-fits-all lessons or practice. Think about this for a second. Do all of your students earn the same grade? I'm certain they don't! And yet, many teachers assign the same homework or same practice to all students regardless of individual students' level of readiness. Let's say that I create a practice geared toward proficiency -- maybe for students with a B. This practice might be useful for students with B's or C's. Clearly, this practice is too easy for students with an A and too difficult for students with a D. By assigning this "one size fits some" practice, I just ignored the needs of the advanced and struggling students.

By now, teachers start to think, "Wait a minute! I don't have time to create individual practice for all of my students! Who has time for that?" The truth is, no one has time for that! So the question is how do we develop and embrace a framework that supports creating homework or practice to meet the needs of all learners? In order to reach diverse learners, we need diverse teaching strategies. Student voice and choice lie at the foundation of a differentiated classroom. When voice and choice are honored, the one-size-fits-all model transforms into multiple pathways for student growth.

Here are a few steps to offer multiple pathways for student success.

The Framework: Tiering for Levels of Understanding

A good lesson design includes learning objectives that are visible to students. However, learning objectives alone will not guide students in terms of how they'll need to perform. There are a few tools that can help you tier learning objectives and activities for levels of understanding: Depth of Knowledge chart (PDF), Depth of Knowledge Question Stems (PDF), Bloom's Taxonomy, or Hess' Cognitive Rigor Matrix (PDF). Here's an example that I created for my Spanish students:

It's important to reveal these levels of understanding to students. Too often, students want to know how many points they need to get the next letter grade. These clearly-defined levels of understanding shift the focus from point chasing to knowledge seeking. Without gaining understanding, student learning plateaus or plummets.

The Practice: Tiering Practice for Levels of Understanding

Once you determine what students will need to do for each level of understanding, it's time to create practice that mirrors these levels. This can be accomplished through a variety of strategies, but regardless the method, it is imperative to honor student voice and choice.

Labeling Levels of Understanding

This is one of the simplest ways to tier practice. Levels of understanding can be labeled by clearly identifying ability levels as part of the heading for each section of practice. Students can choose where they need to start based on their own levels of understanding. Some may start with the Basic practice and work through Proficient. Others may start with Proficient and work their way through Advanced. This means that, while all students receive the same paper or practice, they simply choose where to start and end.

Learning Menus

Learning menus offer students voice and choice in how they learn while providing them with purposeful practice. This SlideShare, Multiple Pathways to Student Engagement, offers examples of how to create Think Tac Toe menus as well as additional learning menu styles aligned to levels of understanding.

Anchor Activities

These are practice activities available to students once their work is complete and extra time remains. You can create anchor activities at a designated station in your classroom where students can go for extra practice. In order to foster self-reflection, consider having students identify why they chose the practice they chose. Want to go digital? Consider creating digital playlists with hyperlinks for students to navigate their practice. Sites such as Symbaloo or EdShelf are great platforms for anchor activities.

The Assessments: Tiering for Formative and Summative Assessments

Assessments can be tiered for levels of understanding as well. Formative assessments should build from basic to advanced levels of understanding in order to guide instruction and practice. Summative assessments should embrace all levels of understanding so that both the teacher and student have a clear picture of student learning at the end of a unit of instruction.

These are just a few of many strategies to support diverse learners. The bottom line is that "one size" only fits some students. It is the responsibility of diverse teachers to offer diverse strategies in order to support diverse learners in the classroom.

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Welcoming Diverse Learners
This series offers strategies to meet students where they are, and respond to their changing needs.

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Kimberly Richhart's picture

We have been working a lot with DI in my school this year. We have been learning different strategies in which to do DI. Learning menus and anchor activities were things that we spoke a lot about. I think giving students a way that there final product looks in really important. Like you said in your post letting the students chose where their level of understanding is and where it needs to go is up to them. This allows for them to also take ownership of their learning and it will progress as they chose for it to progress. Formative and Summative assessments also need to address the different levels of understanding as well so all students have a way to show what they know.

Charity Stephens's picture
Charity Stephens
Transforming point chasers to knowledge seekers

Kimberly, I love that your school embraces DI! I agree it is vital for students to take ownership of their learning. I think as educators we have to help them understanding how to own their learning. You hit the nail on the head with utilizing formative and summative assessments. I wrote about formative and summative assessments in this ASCD article http://www.ascd.org/ascd-express/vol10/1019-stephens.aspx .We must "assess, diagnose, and prescribe" learning for students. Points do not motivate the struggling student, but encouragement and tools for failing forward gives students hope.

mandagg's picture

I appreciate the examples of Tiering you provided in your blog. I found it useful to "see" it rather than just read about it. There were some ideas listed that I had not thought about trying. I am hoping to use the information to help me in my classroom.

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