Monthly Archives: November 2013

Differentiation: A Reflection on Differentiation and Relevant Resources

     Differentiation is a method that brings modified and malleable lessons, content, assessments, and assignments in the classroom to create unique and individualized learning to the classroom. Below is a list of resources describing different aspects of differentiation.

     This academic journal describes how seemingly polar opposites, standards-based education and differentiation, can actually coincide in harmony in the classroom. The juxtaposition between standards and differentiation is this: teachers have a certain set of knowledge or skills that must be mastered by students, a certain level of desired mastery for passing, and a certain amount of time in which to accomplish this. On the other hand, however, teachers are teaching to a classroom of 20 or 30 (or sometimes more!) students that come from varying backgrounds, values, prior knowledge, learning styles, and abilities. This is where the standards and differentiation can work together because, as the article states, standards tell us what to teach, and differentiation tells us how to teach it. One quote from this journal describes the relationship between differentiation and standards perfectly: “Differentiation suggests that you can challenge all learners by providing materials and tasks on the standard at varied levels of difficulty, with varying degrees of scaffolding, through multiple instructional groups, and with time variations.” This journal also includes bad examples of the lack of differentiation and the over emphasis on standards, such as schools that teach to the test to promote high test-scores. It also includes good examples of differentiation working together with standards such as a teacher placing a group of mixed-abilities students together to work on an assignment and learn from each other’s abilities. The journal ends with a few questions to keep in mind when creating lessons and assessments for a group of varied learners.

            This last book gave some more great background information on differentiation in the classroom. As with most of the other resources, this book touched on what differentiation is, why it is necessary, and how to implement it in the classroom. What is so great about this resource that would make it worth buying, is that it includes great, concrete examples for activities, print-offs, rubrics, and tables that teachers could scan right off the page to use in the classroom. That isn’t possible (due to copyright laws) through this electronic version, but it would definitely be worth purchasing for the teacher resources it provides.

            This book focused on differentiated assessments. By clicking on the link you can access 33 pages from this book. This book contains information about why it is important to provide differentiated assessments. However, some of the most helpful chapters for teachers might be the following that I have selected: chapter 4 focuses on 3 main types of assessments, and chapter 6 focuses on creating good test questions. The main types of assessments indicated in chapter 4 included portfolios, rubrics, and student self-assessments. This resource is definitely one worth buying to use it in its entirety.

      This article discusses the differentiation methods used by first-year special education teachers. One aspect of the differentiation common to all of these special education teachers was a system of setting personal goals for each student to maintain progress. This aspect of teaching is inherent to most special education programs, and it sets realistic goals for each student to progress through as benchmarks throughout the school year. This sets individual rather than school-wide goals for learning and mastery. Also, all of the teachers used a different series of differentiation strategies. Some differentiated using different leveled materials for students, others used the same materials with different strategies for each student, some also allowed students to choose the product that was created by students during learning, and all seemed to allow for different learning styles such as auditory, kinesthetic, or tactile. This article ends not only by discussing the difficulties faced by special educators in teaching their students, but it also mentioned something interesting to note about the difference between differentiation in special education and regular education. Differentiation in built into special education by design; students are required to have an individualized education plan and individual goals based their own abilities. In regular education, this is usually not a huge concern for most students, so many student teachers aren’t taught a great amount of differentiation. This carries over into their professional teaching experience.


     This book gives ideas and guidelines for differentiated teaching for intermediate readers in grades 3-8. The online version of the book shows 90 of the pages of this book. Chapters 1, 2, and 8 might be most helpful for the general population because they include concrete examples of differentiated instruction, activities, and assessments. One such activity included partner reading in small groups. Here, students are put into small groups, and each person has a partner within the group. Pairs take turns reading a passage of a book or text. The partner that is not reading gives feedback for the partner that is reading to help him or her improve. The roles are then switched. This is a great activity and opportunity for differentiation that teachers can use to help students with higher level abilities scaffold students with lower level abilities while confirming and practicing their own knowledge and skills.

            This pdf includes information about a study of differentiation conducted in Malta. The basis of differentiated teaching in the Maltese school studied is that all students are individuals who are equally valuable and deserve of challenging and stimulating academic work. This resource also ranked, from most effective to least effective, strategies that help students learn. This list included in descending order: working with technology, having educated parents follow up on work at home, discussion between themselves (students), working cooperatively in groups, working actively on a task, and paying attention to the teacher. However, as with all practices in education, the teacher must pay attention to each students’ learning style. This article also noted something very important: that teachers, staff, and administrators must work together to achieve differentiation throughout schools.

            This article begins with background information about differentiated teaching instruction. Since the previous resources dealt with the same topic, I chose to focus on the last two-thirds of this resource. One of my favorite sections of this article is the section that states that the key to differentiated teaching is having a toolbox full of teaching techniques that can be used when necessary either by themselves or mixed with other forms of teaching. These methods included direct instruction, inquiry-based learning, cooperative learning, and information processing strategies. Under each type of teaching there are links for additional information to give teachers even more concrete examples. Further along, this resource provides additional links for information on fair and equitable assessment. The resource concludes with a reflection on different classroom scenarios and the level of differentiation utilized by each teacher.


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Nerds Book Review

     Image      For those of you that have experienced the sometimes brutal social and emotional roller coasters of grade school, you know how upsetting it is to be called a nerd, but in the context of Michael Buckley’s young adult novel Nerds, being called this name is hardly a bad thing.

     Meet the National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society, NERDS. That’s right, Nerds are actually a super secret group of high-tech secret agents that you probably pass right by everyday. From the beginning of time nerds have been bullied, taunted, and sometimes flat out ignored because of their unassuming appearances. However, we all known that looks can be deceiving. These paste-eating, inhaler-puffing, buck-toothed, brace-face kids can move between the regular world and the world of spies, secret agents, and super villains undetected because of their humble appearances. And guess what? Not only are these school kids super cool spies in disguise, they operate right out of their own elementary school! While most students are too busy talking with their friends, eating lunch, or checking their hair in the mirror, this awkward group of outsiders is busy slipping through the secret passage ways in the lockers of the school to access their headquarters in the basement. From there they use only the most up-to-date technology to practice their moves, get new gear, and jet-set around the world to fight crime. It must be hard getting picked on and called a loser when you’re a secret agent living a double life to save the world, but for agents code named “Gluestick”, “Pufferfish”, “Choppers”, “Flinch”, and “Wheezer”, maintaining their secrecy is the key to keeping incognito and hidden from the super villains they fight on the regular.

     For these agents, risking their lives to save the world is no big deal, but can they handle a new addition to their team? Sure, kickin’ the world’s most maniacal villains in the rear is no big deal, but when Jackson “Braceface” Jones shows up, things get sticky. You see, for years Jackson was a hot-shot, football playing, cool-kid. That all changed when Jackson got braces. Suddenly he was kicked off the team, and his friends quit talking to him. When he has a run-in at the NERD’s headquarters, the team’s leader, Agent Brand, decides to take him in. Will Jackson ever find friends again? Will the NERDS accept him as one of their own or forgive him for the years of merciless taunting he made them endure? When Jackson finds himself as one of the “nerds” he always bullied, everything starts to change. 

     On a more serious note, Nerds presents some important themes that resonate with children in grade school. Throughout the book you see the effect of Jackson’s bullying on those considered “nerds” or “losers” in school. One of these nerds, through years of anger and hard feelings, eventually turns to the dark sides and tries to destroy the world. Now I’m not saying that any person who has ever been called a name wants to take over the world, but this book does show the reader how seemingly harmless pranks and cranks can seriously hurt a person’s feelings. In Buckley’s novel, things are turned upside down. Bullying is not cool, and being a nerd is actually awesome. It also goes to show that not only should you accept others for who they are, but you should always accept yourself for you who are.

     So does the team ever accept Jackson into their world of secret agents and globe trotting missions? Read Michael Buckley’s Nerds and find out!

Buckley, M. (2009). Nerds: National espionage, rescue, and defense society. New York, NY: Amulet Books.


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Filed under Young Adult Novels