The Hows and Whys of Differentiation

News from the 2nd Grade classroom

March 24, 2021

A large benefit to the smaller class sizes at PNA is the opportunity for differentiation for students.  It sounds great but what does that actually mean? In an article entitled “What is Differentiated Instruction?” on the Reading Rocket website, it is defined in the simple term of “tailoring instruction to meet individual needs.”  Here is a quick look at how differentiation happens in the four main areas of the learning experiences for second grade.

The learning environment has been called the second teacher in the classroom and that can absolutely be true.  By having anchor charts and work plans available, students are able to work independently, using them for guidance and review as needed.  Different work places in the  room allow for working quietly or collaborating with others, as well as different seating options offering the ability to move or stand or sit to do work.  Clear guidelines for expectations help keep the learning environment running smoothly.

Calkins units of study writing gr2 example 

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Academic content and process are often the two areas where most daily differentiation takes place. Examples of this includes:
-Using reading materials at varying readability levels and giving individual spelling lists to students enable them to study the same content but in a way that is accessible for them.
-Using tiered activities where students are learning the same content but have different scaffolding methods in place such as larger lined paper for writing, writing 5 sentences instead of 3, offering the use of manipulatives as a visual aid if needed and varying the length of time given for assignments.
-Meeting with small groups to review or re-teach a concept with students or to extend a concept for more advanced learners.
-Having a variety of materials on the same topic allowing for different learning styles to access the content being taught.  For example, in our current study on earth changes, materials included samples of rocks students could examine themselves, videos showing different earth changes in action, online and physical books on earth changes, experiments allowing students to make predictions and test hypothesis, witness accounts of different land changes…

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Photo credits clockwise from left: Epic reading, Mystery Science, Been There Taught That TPT store, Marli Miller
Allowing student voice and choice in ​products of their learning is also another way to differentiate.  Students are able to work through their own learning more authentically when they are able to express their understandings and mastery of content in a variety of ways.  Some examples would include taking oral instead of written tests, choosing how to create a content visual (skit vs poster), or choosing to extend learning past expected goals (i.e. learning about the job of mayor as content area expectation and then independently deciding to write to the mayor to address issues in the town).  Using rubrics to evaluate student performance shows strengths and areas for improvement for each particular student yet measures the same information across the board.  

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While it is not feasible to differentiate for every student in every subject every day, we strive to do this as much as possible in order to give students the best individual and authentic learning experiences as can be.  Students are more independent learners, reflective thinkers and engaged participants in their own learning as a result.
What Is Differentiated Instruction?  By: Carol Ann Tomlinson
Excerpted from: Tomlinson, C. A. (August, 2000). Differentiation of Instruction in the Elementary Grades. ERIC Digest. ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education.