Guest Blog: Angie Duncker, Curriculum Designer, Knowre
For countless hours each year teachers spend time in professional development sessions, seminars, workshops, and department meetings all focused on differentiation of instruction. This time spent training teachers pales in comparison to the actual time spent by individual teachers planning differentiated lessons and activities, and documenting that differentiation and its efficacy.
As teachers, we document everything. I do not know of a single teacher who functions without some sort of “system” to document all the information needed to fulfill the requirements of the school, district, state, and federal government. In fact, when planning a lesson, the differentiation is not the most difficult piece of the puzzle. The hard part is keeping track of all the tiny details. In a differentiated setting students receive differing assignments, unique projects for individuals and groups, unique task lists within the group, various due dates, and all with the same objective: to master the concepts being taught.
In my experience, many teachers utilized a system of binders and clipboards to keep track of everything. I tried, but the binder system just was not for me. Being a child of the digital revolution, I utilized technology. My student’s lessons and assignments were enriched, and I empowered students through the use of technology to differentiate their learning products to achieve the common objective. With all this differentiation going on around me, I tracked student progress through digital means. Going digital alleviated the mountains of paperwork from my desk, the time it took to rifle through the piles searching for that “one page”, and in the process, saved my sanity – not to mention, a tree or two.
Students see the solutions to math problems in as many unique ways as there are students to solve them. The key to differentiation is not to change the objective for students of various levels, but for each student to utilize various pathways to achieve the same objective. Even if every student is given the same problem to solve, challenge them to find a different way of solving or explaining the problem. This is a great strategy for learners to understand different solution methods and ideas as a means of solving the problem, especially when using a digital curriculum, such as Knowre. As students complete assigned problems, have them document differing solution methods and their explanations. Students can use websites such as Doink.com to create animations to explain a solution or concept. Gcast.com enables students to make podcasts of their sollutions to be shared with other students, especially those students who may have been absent that day. If group work is involved, try glogster.com to have them make a poster to show off what they know. Being able to communicate the knowledge they have gained is a great motivator for students and mathematically precise communication is part of the Standards for Mathematical Practice for the Common Core State Standards.
With all these podcasts, posters, and animations flooding in, how can a teacher keep track of who did what and when? Google. Yes, I said Google. Google docs is an online email and document service which, if you have a gmail account, you already have access to. Google docs allows you to share files and documents with specific students, track edits and modifications by the user along with the time and date. This means that you can make an assignment for a specific student, share it privately with them via email, and they have access to it wherever they can access the Internet. Students can also digitally submit their work, providing you with a date and time of submittal as well as the assurance you won’t need to go digging through a pile of papers to find it. Sharing files and documents with parents via Google is such an effective way to keep them abreast of all that is going on in your classroom and with their student’s progress.
Effective parental communication is key to the success of not only the student, but to your classroom management as well. Remind101.com is a free app available for iPhone, Android, iOS, and PC which provides one-way messaging via text. Students will read an email when they get around to it, but they will climb mountains to be able to read that text message! This program allows you to inform both students and their parents of upcoming assignments, due dates, and assessments providing documentation of the information relayed without breaching communication safety protocols. Messages can be written and “saved” in advance and set to disburse at a specific time and date so students don’t forget. Parents really appreciate receiving these texts informing them of due dates and assessments because they are then able to plan a little better for things such as their student’s doctor appointments and vacations knowing what was going to happen in class on that day.
You have the subject and professional knowledge to make differentiation work for your students, now let technology do the work of keeping track of it all. I encourage you to experiment with the tools, apps, and techno-toys available to see what works for you. In fact, if this has gotten your mind working on ways you could go digital, you’re differentiating for yourself, right now, Happy digitizing!