Differentiated Teaching: Putting it all together

May 09, 2019

Differentiated Teaching is an evidence-based high impact teaching strategy and implementing it successfully will ensure that teachers are well equipped and clear in their purpose and students thrive in such a positive environment.

This is the last part of the series on Differentiated Teaching.
Part 1: Differentiated Teaching
Part 2: Differentiated Teaching: Assessment
Part 3: Differentiated Teaching: Grading

How to implement Differentiation in Schools?

Rick Wormeli provides numerous tips to implement Differentiated Instruction in schools successfully. Some of the key ones are:

  1. Set a culture of expectancy - Make exploring grading and assessing ideas an expected element of everyday life in the school. If almost everyone is talking about and experimenting with them, it’s difficult for those who aren’t doing so to keep their toes dry. This can be done via discussions during Faculty meetings, establishing a faculty portfolio of ideas, setting instructional roundtables on topics such as dealing with paperwork, tiering tests, electronic gradebooks etc.
  2. Focus and fund in-service professional teacher training.
  3. Incorporate Grading and Assessment practices into Professional goals.
  4. Consider adopting CBAM - Concerns-Based Adoption Model : In the model, teachers move through different stages of concern—for themselves, for the task, for the new idea’s impact—as well as through stages of use. It’s great to use when moving teachers through grading and assessment reforms. If we respond to each level of concern and how teachers are using the idea, teachers are more willing to partake in the new initiative.
  5. Focus on staff physical and emotional well-being.
  6. Affirm risk-taking - Make teachers feel safe in trying new things. It starts at the top with the administration taking risks publicly, and it’s promoted weekly. Ask teachers how they’ve experimented with ideas this week and what they learned as a result—good, bad, or in-between.
  7. Publish what your school is doing regarding grading and assessment in education journals and magazines. It’s very motivating to know that our work will get a broader audience than just us.
  8. Create an atmosphere of reflective practice and analysis - Ask faculty members to maintain reflection (learning) logs, and to regularly connect dots between decisions they make regarding grading and assessment and the subsequent impact on students and their learning.
  9. Focus colleagues on the school’s core values - This may take a year or more, but identify those four or five bottom-line values with which everyone agrees.
  10. Plan tours of schools who have successfully implemented Differentiation
  11. Start very small - As with most things, practice new behaviors in short chunks. How about implementing one new grading and assessment idea every month?Then, how about one every week until we use multiple ideas weekly?
  12. Maintain a system of peer observation and mentoring in which teachers observe and analyze each other’s lessons in light of the new emphasis on grading and assessment.
  13. Update everyone on the latest thinking in cognitive science/theory - There is great overlap and mutual reinforcement with grading and assessment practices. Teachers who are well-informed about cognitive theory principles usually embrace responsive grading and assessment for differentiated classrooms readily.
  14. Keep a sense of humor and a sense of journey - It’s an engaging, three- to five-year process, not an overnight mandate. Three steps forward, two steps back is still progress, and it’s easier with a smile
  15. Involve the Parents and community about the school’s new emphasis and invite them to look for evidence of it in action.

Qualities of a teacher in a Differentiated Classroom

  1. Differentiating teacher do what’s fair and developmentally appropriate for the students they teach, and those students change every year.
  2. Choose fairness over equality, and what is fair won’t always be equal. It is fair to provide scaffolding and support for some students but not for others who do not need it.
  3. Spend considerable time and energy designing pre-assessments, and formative and summative assessments, to provide feedback, document progress, and inform instructional decisions, being particularly attentive to formative assessments as the most crucial to student success.
  4. Maximize students’ learning at every turn, including giving them the tools to handle anything that is undifferentiated.
  5. Do whatever it takes to provide all students, regardless of their differences and stations in life, with the tools and inclination to achieve.
  6. Teach and assess in ways that make the material understood and meaningful—two prerequisites for long-term memory storage and subsequent student success.
  7. Provide ample opportunity for students to assess themselves
  8. Use the student’s pattern of achievement overtime to declare mastery, not allowing one or two immature or unfortunate moments to taint an accurate record
  9. Tend to use rubrics more than percentage grad-ing, recognizing the need to tie achievement to specific learning, not the number of test items answered correctly.
  10. Design classroom tests that do not attempt to thwart students with confusing prompts or troubling formats. They make every prompt worth asking and clear enough to enable an intelligent response.
  11. Design their tests for quick and useful feedback to the student, understanding that they are teaching for successful learning, not just to document students’ growth or lack thereof.
  12. Are ceaselessly collaborative, welcoming the scrutiny of colleagues and the chance to learn more about the ways students learn best. They are not threatened by the observations or advice of others, and they take frequent risks in the classroom—teaching in ways that students best learn, not the way they teach best.
  13. Shift their thinking from their own state of affairs to empathy for their students.

Ten Approaches to Avoid When performing Assessment
and Grading in a Differentiated Classroom

  1. Avoid incorporating non-academic factors e.g. behavior, attendance and effort into the final grade.
  2. Avoid penalizing students’ multiple attempts at mastery.
  3. Avoid grading practice (homework).
  4. Avoid withholding assistance  
    -  removing barriers to allow students to learn the material    
    - determine ways that students can successfully demonstrate mastery      
    - remember, fair isn’t always equal
  5. Avoid assessing students in ways that do not accurately indicate their mastery  e.g. if students cannot read the math question, how will they be able to demonstrate their ability do the math?
  6. Avoid allowing extra credit and bonus points, these artificially inflate a student’s grade
  7. Avoid group grades.  Allow collaboration and group work, but have every student be responsible for their own work.
  8. Avoid grading on a curve.  Grades should be for documenting progress and providing feedback.  They should not be used for documenting standings.
  9. Avoid recording zeros for work not done.
  10. Avoid using norm-referenced terms to describe criterion-referenced attributes e.g. “averageness”  is a norm-reference term.

To derive more information on Differentiated Teaching, please read Rick Wormeli's book: Fair Isn't Always Equal.

Madhavi Agnihotri

A technologist passionate about how an effective education system can build a future ready generation.