Teaching middle school is not for the faint of heart. But if you're called to do it, you know there's nothing else quite like it. Join us in discussing what works - and what doesn't.

Differentiating in a Middle School Classroom

Heather Wolpert - Gawron Middle school teacher by day, educational author/blogger by night

So you're standing there in front of a group of typical middle schoolers, and by definition each one lays somewhere on the developmental line between elementary level and high school. You've got kids reading at 4th grade levels and ones reading at 12th grade levels all in the same room. You've got kids playing Operation and those playing Doctor.

So how do you differentiate for this wide range of students without creating 36 different lesson plans? How do you differentiate in a way that doesn't burn you out of middle school entirely?

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Grade 6 Middle School Special Education teacher from South Jersey

Differentiation

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Dear Jm,
Your Math students might enjoy an assignment which is tiered, allowing each student to enter the assignment on their learning level. They might even try the problems at a higher level where the work is more challenging. At the lower level of the tier, math problems requiring basic computation, whereas, the upper tier, critical thinking. Have students get into groups to explain how they arrived at their answers. You will be surprised how many different strategies are used.

Differentiation, in your case, Mathematics, involves addressing a variety of learning levels, strategies,interests and styles. Your goal as the facilitator is to help the students bridge their understanding and skills. Frequent pre-testing and post-testing will help you and your students determine which level of the math problem they will tackle first. Interest surveys are a great tool also. For example-computing football scores(data analysis, etc.) According to brain-based researchers,relating Math and other subjects to personal experience, "jumpstarts" the brain into gear. An Anticipatory Set before beginning the lesson might include."Did anyone here see the Dallas game yesterday"?

I hope this helps.

How the Brain Learns: A Classroom Teacher's Guide, by Sousa; Teaching with the Brain and Mind, by Eric Jensen; Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain, by Renate Nummela Caine and Geoffrey Caine;

Middle School teacher by day, Tweenteacher by night

Math differentiation

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JM,
Thanks so much for helping me (an ELA teacher) begin to see how to differentiate with math. I going to be thinking further on this all day! "Swinging for the fences" is a baseball reference. As batter, you swing for those back bandstands and see what happens. In other words, setting high expectations, as you suspected.

Wow. You've given me a lot to think about.

Thanks for posting and I hope to see you again on the middle school boards.

-Heather WG

Challenge by Choice w/ Tiered Instruction and Assessment (Math)

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I absolutely agree with and love the notion of swinging for the fences for all students.  High expectations for all is the most critical and basic ingredient to building an intoxicating learning culture within a class and broader school community. I also support attempts to push the fences back even further for our sluggers and super sluggers.  If lesson and unit ending homeruns are the goals we have for all students, what do we do when a select group of kids find the distant fences well within their reach?  I like tiering as a way to offer even more distant fences to kids who are up to even greater challenges.  Teachers in Oakland a few years back and more recently in Jakarta have had a lot of fun implementing this strategy as a way to make sure we push all students to reach distances that are "learning maximizing" depending on their starting points when they they arrive to our classes.  All students are held to a rigorous grade level standard (the homerun), but we also provide exceptionally challenging tasks for kids who are trying to hit the ball out of the stadium each time they're up to bat. Relative to workload, it was a lot of work upfront.  Dividing work between collaborative teachers and organizing the completed tiered assignments and assessments in a way that made them easily shared between teachers and used from year to year has gone a long way towards making our efforts sustainable and fun.  To offer more perspective, out of the seven teachers who originally embarked on this effort in Jakarta, there were three mothers and one father with pre-kindergarten age children at home, one mother with teenagers and one new (and very proud) grandmother. :)   We now find ourselves with a tiered math program that's highly responsive to individual needs while not killing the teachers who are pulling it off.  In fact, teachers are finding themselves feeling a lot more effective and less stressed out than the days when we didn't tier.  It certainly helps to have tiered assignments and assessments  in place for just about all lessons and units we teach.  We're not providing individual fences for each child, but doing our best to meet individual needs by offering three sets of fences that seem to match the readiness levels kids tend to bring to class. Then again, students are able to mix assignments, so for example, they might choose do complete half of a standard assignment and half of an advanced assignment rather than the entirety of either one, so I guess the options available to students are more numerous than just the three.  In the baseball analogy, I guess that would be like asking a student to swing for one fence during their first 5 at-bats and then push the fences further back for the last 5 tries.  This sort of flexibility to adjust challenge levels is common outside the classroom, from video games to ski slopes.  Maybe that's one reason it really resonates with kids when brought into the classroom. I've tried to explain more about our efforts and shared some samples of what these different expectations look like at http://challengebychoice.wordpress.com/ .  Check it out if this sounds at all interesting.  We've had a ton of fun with this approach and there's no doubt that our students are benefitting. Nice to meet all of you.  I really enjoyed reading all of the comments that have been shared.  Thank you!  

Instructional Coach, Leadership Coach, Math Specialist

Great conversation--sorry for

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Great conversation--sorry for jumping in so late, but hopefully better late than never. In any case, like Chad Sansing, I'm big on individualized feedback as a key to accommodating differences among students. Check out my blog post, Practice (With Coaching) Makes Proficient, for more on this: http://bit.ly/cHlM5X

I have been a MS principal

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I have been a MS principal for 20+ years and I understand the concern w/differentiated instruction. You do not need a lesson plan for each student, ideally yes, but not realistic. Try to divide your class into 3 or 4 levels and have activities for the lesson for each group. This is not needed for every lesson. I also have online workshops using Rick Wormeli books. One book is on differentiated instruction. Rick even responds when available to the conversation. Great PD for staff at very responsible prices. I use the book "Fair Isn't Always Equal", "Differentiated" and "Meet Me in the Middle". Visit my website at www.mcqualityeducserv.com I am offering free "Kindle" for group registration.

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Heather, I agree with you that teaching texting is a good tool for students. I tell my students I "invented" Cornell notes, only I folded my paper in half instead of one-third/two-thirds! Then I go on to tell them that I became such a good note-taker that I put myself through college working for an attorney. I could "text" as fast as my boss could write because I "texted" in college. Then I open up a discussion about various words they already know to "shorthand" and build from there. Not only does it provide an engaging opening to Cornell note-taking, but it also provides a scaffold and the belief students really can master Cornell notes.

Heather, I agree with you,

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Heather, I agree with you, and I don't think teaching "texting" use is controversial at all. I tell my students I "invented" Cornell note-taking while I was in high school, though I folded my paper in half and had to create my own "texting" shorthand. I became such an expert "texter" that I paid my way through college working for an attorney because my school "texting" was also a great employment strategy. Then we begin a discussion about shorthand expressions they already know, and I share some I learned along the way. Students see the applicability of texting to school and vice-versa, and they're very accepting of Cornell note-taking as a useful practice.

I am glad that I found this

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I am glad that I found this discussion. I am still a fairly new teacher and come to teaching after years in business. In my second year of teaching, an experience teacher in my school district showed me how to create differenated assignments that were easy for me to grade and the students are able to choose what assignment they want to do. At the beginning of each chapter, the students receive a "unit sheet" which lists all of the possible assignments for the chapter and the number of points that are needed for that chapter. There are assignments that all students have to complete and then there are assignments that students can choose. The assignments are geared toward the different learning styles and include skits, songs/raps, poems/descriptive stories, posters, etc. I have had students inform me that doing these different types of assignments that they understood the information better. By the students being able to have some say in their assignments, they were more willing to complete the assignments and increase their understanding of the subject.

8th Grade Reading/Language Arts Teacher

Differentiation

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Pre-assessment is the key to finding what skill levels your students are. I believe that a centers based instruction. Students are grouped heterogeneously by their skill or interest level. My higher students may be conducting research while my lower groups are completing the same skill but at a different level. This also gives me more time with my lower students; while my higher groups work as a group or as individuals to complete their tasks. Many times my higher level will help as a peer tutor. Two of my students last year year stated they learned a great deal from these experiences. ANother thing I like doing is to give students a choice of assignments whenever possible. This has helped with student buy-in of the assignment.

In the world the parent-child relationship is one of the longest lasting so

Whenever a child goes into

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Whenever a child goes into school, he wants to go in college, but when he found himself in college then he miss his middle school classroom., whenever he was in college and after college all the tensions like found an earning source Home work, reaching at school time all such things he miss when, responsibilities are in creased a, then how it is possible that a man not forget his middle school classroom. This is the best part of every one’s life.

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