Developing autonomy as a learner and becoming self-regulated with an evident sense of self-efficacy are all supported by differentiating within the classroom. Formative instructional practices contribute to this differentiated environment as both students and teachers continually collect evidence of learning, reflect on it, and adjust to both learning tactics and instruction. This minute-to-minute and day-by-day effort both engages and energizes learners and teachers. It is also part of the development and support of a growth mindset. If teachers truly use assessment as “the compass for daily planning,” they can’t help but differentiate.
When it comes to the various aspects of differentiating instruction, there are several I might list for contention, including:
This list probably looks familiar to many of you as it comes from Carol Ann Tomlinson’s work. One of the major benefits of using formative assessment strategies is that they help provide support with the first four on this list.
- Content – How do you use pre-assessment in your teaching? What we teach can be differentiated easily through the use of a pre-assessment. These come in many forms – synectic, quiz, KWL, word sort, etc. Using a pre-assessment lets you know who is ready to learn what, therefore allowing you to differentiate content.
- Process – From Carol Ann: Learning happens within people, not to them; because of that, learning is a messy process and cannot always happen on a prescribed timeline or in the same way for all individuals. Messy can be a really good thing when it comes to learning. What does the process look like in your classroom? What systems, processes, and tools do you have in place to support students in their personal learning or in acting as instructional resources for each other?
- Product – How can I use assessment as a tool to support learning? If we start with that question as we think about product, the potential “products” list is long. My friend Greg Russo used to keep a folder on his wall with a list of 50 ways students could “show what they know.” Offer them choice.
- Environment – How can I set up the physical learning environment to support all students? Do you have rows, pods, or tables? How do you provide strategy and process prompts for visual reminders? Do you have centers set up?
What’s your compass? Which aspect of lesson planning is most challenging for you? What are you doing to work on it?
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