Thursday, November 20, 2014

Differentiation of Instruction

During the fall of my first year teaching my mentor and I were discussing my upcoming parent-teacher conferences. He shared some questions parents might ask during the conferences and asked me how I would respond. One question that has always stayed in my mind was "How do you challenge your advanced students?" Until that point my main differentiation of instruction was catered toward reaching my lower performing students. I was good at reaching multiple levels of students, but the group I consistently left behind was my advanced students. I had very few ways of differentiating for my gifted students, and the methods I did use consisted of giving them more work, not more challenging work.

Piling work on gifted students is a common way teachers mistakenly differentiate for their advanced students. (I know I still make this mistake sometimes.)  Does this sound familiar? "Oh, you finished your work?  Great!  Here's another worksheet."

Since the conversation with my mentor five years ago I have always tried to remember to include all levels of differentiation in my class and provide a challenge for my gifted students.  It is something I am still working on, but I have made progress. Keep in mind, it isn't always the same gifted students every day. Oftentimes the students considered advanced change regularly depending on the subject matter.  Each student is great at something and I try to recognize his or her strengths in class.

Here are some ways I have challenged my advanced students:
  • Let the students plan and teach a lesson.
  • Have students tutor others to help prepare for upcoming tests.
  • Have students tutor classmates who struggled on a test the first time and are determined to understand the content better and take the test again.
  • Work with individuals or small groups in class during a lesson.
  • Be the teacher's helper and assist with answering classmate's questions during individual work time.
  • Have different levels of stations around the room and point out the most challenging ones. Then have each student complete a certain number of stations of their choice. Generally each student chooses the stations he or she is ready for.
  • Create multiple versions of the same worksheet with different levels of questions and let the students determine which sheet to complete.
Recently I updated a set of worksheets I use to teach genetics and Punnett squares. The Creature Genotype and Phenotype Punnett Square Practice Worksheets include two worksheets about the same content. In the worksheets the students make Punnett squares to find the genotypes and phenotypes of the offspring of mythical creatures like unicorns, dragons, and werewolves. The worksheets have the same questions and the same answers, but what makes them differentiated is the phrasing of the questions. In Worksheet A the students are given the genotype of the parents, which allows them to focus on the main goal of practicing Punnett squares and understanding how the offspring get certain traits. In Worksheet B the students have to figure out the genotypes of the parents themselves before they can create their Punnett squares. 

 Creature Genotype and Phenotype Punnett Square Practice Worksheets

Below are examples of questions from each worksheet in the set with the differences highlighted.

Worksheet A: In werewolves, silver hair is a recessive trait and dark brown hair is a dominant trait. If a ww werewolf is crossed with a WW werewolf, what are the possible genotypes and phenotypes of the offspring and the percent chance for each?  You will have to choose the letter to use for this question. Use a Punnett square to help you find your answers.

Worksheet B:  In werewolves, silver hair is a recessive trait and dark brown hair is a dominant trait. If a silver haired werewolf is crossed with a purebred werewolf with dark brown hair, what are the possible genotypes and phenotypes of the offspring and the percent chance for each?  You will have to choose the letter to use for this question. Use a Punnett square to help you find your answers.

Tweaking the worksheets just a little bit can sometimes be all it takes to make the work more challenging. It is an easy way to reach all levels of students.

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments for me about anything in this post. Thanks for reading!

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