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A few strategies… with differentiation in mind.

The focus of our district professional development day this year was differentiation of instruction. When I was in the classroom I felt like this was the area that caused me the most anxiety when completing my evaluation portfolio in the spring. I’ve always known I should do it, I thought I might be doing it, but I never felt like it was a strength of mine. As an art teacher, providing choice and adapting project requirements or topics were really my go-to strategies.

Now, with our district implementing the PLC process, differentiation is something that we are forced to think about when planning. Before, I felt as though differentiation was always something that happened “on the fly” when I noticed a student or students struggling. I also was very good at giving that kiddo that was finished early time to read their book of choice or work on other homework until the rest of the group caught up.

Here are a few ideas that I’ve collected, specifically for answering Q3, that my be helpful if you’ve been feeling the same way–

  • Chunking: Chunking content can be incredibly helpful for students that are slow to process or struggle seeing the “big picture”. Giving students smaller bits of info to process at a time makes learning more manageable. Another thought is to guide students through the process of chunking information themselves. Working with them to break down, categorize, rank, or sort information could be a way to help them work through the content.
  • Non-Linguistic Representation: Asking students to create visuals, body movements, or  utilize manipulatives to represent content is a great way to help students process, while for some it provides a challenge once concepts are understood– know your students to decide whether this fits them or not.  A Spanish teacher in my building recently taught students phrases for “on top of”, “below”, and other directional words. While reciting these phrases, students moved a piece of paper above their heads, next to them, down towards the floor, etc. to physically represent the words.
  • Memorization Tricks: I recently attended an AdvancEd workshop on working with students from poverty. The presenter spoke highly of the work of Eric Jensen and his memory pegs system. Students create personal connections with words to be able to remember them easily. Not only is it a great parlor trick to impress your friends– but it really does seem to work! Teachers that attempted this with me the other day were able to remember the words in order within 2 minutes.
  • Different Voice:  If a student is struggling with a concept or skill, think about having that student watch a YouTube video of someone else teaching that same information. Or if you team, like we do at MSN, send that student to see the same lesson taught by your grade-level counterpart. Sometimes just hearing the information from someone else, even in a slightly different way, can help.
  • Learning Maps: Jim Knight (my instructional coach colleague Jeanne & I like to call “The Great and Powerful Oz”) presented  in October at his Intensive Instructional Coaching Institute on learning maps. Maps help students to create connections while also grasping the “big picture”. Jim recommends creating these for each of your units and having students complete them along with you– creating a living document that can work as a study guide, as well. A special education teacher in my building has her students create them when struggling with content. They “map out” information to help them understand. Creating maps to wrap my brain around content is now kind of “my thing”.  Here is a look at my whiteboard while thinking through NWEA reports–



Though some of these strategies can be adapted for use with Q4, when students already know it, I will send some ideas your way in the coming weeks. Enjoy!



Instructional coach and former art teacher on the hunt for tips, tricks, strategies, and knowledge to pass along.

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