George Lucas Educational Foundation

Differentiation from Day 1

Differentiation from Day 1

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Differentiation and teaching is like peanut butter and jelly. Not everybody likes it! However, if done correctly, this can be very enjoyable. The first day of every class, I have students participate in a learning activity I learned in college. The students come to the front of the class and I ask them questions (Ex. What did you eat for breakfast?, What were you wearing yesterday?). I then determine what whether they are a visual, audio, or khenistetic learner based on their answers. The students love this! I not only show them that I care about their differentiation as learners, but this helps me to determine how to differentiate on DAY 1. By starting this process early, teachers can fin their routines in developing a diverse educational experience. My mission as a teacher has always been to teach students in ways that THEY learn. Knowing that I am not a magician, this task could seem unrealistic. However each year I thrive on finding new ways to differentiate. Whether I'm using the computer, assigning group stations, singing, using poetry, or simply reading from textbooks, I try my BEST to change things up. My question is, When might this become overwhelming? Should teachers try to accommodate to every single student in the classroom?

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Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

I think one of the keys to differentiation is doing a lot of things that help make the classroom a learning community. This means helping each kid feel seen and acknowledged for themselves; that the teacher knows who they are and cares about them, at least a little bit, which can be as easy as remembering their name and a few small facts about them.
Once kids feel safe and acknowledged, it will make it easier for them to take academic and social risks in the classroom.
In terms of accommodating every individual, you'll find, just like in life, that kids learning styles and needs overlap. Just like at a doctor's office, every patient (student) is an individual, but their general needs fall into bigger patterns which can be dealt with, otherwise, every single person would be a novel case and we'd never be able to figure out how to "treat" them.

For example, simple things like having a classroom website where you can post the homework assignments, weekly and unit goals, and copies in PDF of any handouts, you can help kids be more responsible (They don't have to worry about forgetting anything, because it's all there on the website- no more late runs back to school for the forgotten folder with the worksheets...) This helps the kids who are absent, the ADHD kids who always lose their assignment books, the kid who left the sheet on the bus or in the lunch room, the kid with the bad day, the kid who needs more help at home and the parents can help coach them, the kids who write too slowly to take everything down... the kids who process things better in written than auditory format....- one solution that meets many needs while making a student more independent.

Likewise, setting goals of what gets done in a class period on the board, or unit goals (using backwards design) keeps kids focused on where the lesson is going and what the take-aways will be, keeping them engaged in the process and understanding the purpose.

Backwards design helps you sometimes see there are many paths to the same destination, and sometimes, kids can help express what they know best using the different paths.

Was that helpful at all?

I'm trying to say you don't need a bespoke, handcrafted lesson plan for each kid, but more that certain things can help kids with many different needs, with one general solution. Do you have any more specific examples we could help with?

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