Monday, March 3, 2014

Differentiation: My Eye Opening Moment

Differentiation can be overwhelming.  As an educator, I’m constantly asking myself if I’m doing enough to meet my students’ needs and balance my time. Majority of the time, I worry about differentiating for my lowest students so they will understand the content.  Today, as I grade some projects, I saw my efforts pay off in an unexpected way.

My students are wrapping up the first part of our Earth unit.  Their project was to construct an explanation of the history of Earth based on evidence (NGSStandard MS-ESS1-4). I created a self paced unit allowing each student to work at their own pace to complete activities that helped them learn about the history of Earth and collect evidence. This allowed me to pull groups that needed individual help.  At this point in the year, I have a good understanding of what activities the students will be able to do on their own and which students I will need to assist. As I grade the final projects with the rubric below, it was very clear when students understood the topic.
History of Earth Rubric

In this first example, this group did well.  They followed the instructions and received an A on the project.

In this second example, this student was working on her own and was able to truly demonstrate her depth of knowledge and the research she had done for this project. 

After being blown away by this project, I started thinking about the need to differentiate for high students to get them to reach their full potential.  It was the motivation I needed to keep making activities for the students that give them freedom and choice to demonstrate the full scope of their knowledge.  

Here are some of the things I did to foster this creativity.
  • The students have the freedom to present their knowledge in any way they feel comfortable.  
  • A self paced unit of activities gave students a guide to pull  just the necessary information or gave them the resources to go deeper into the topic.
  • Each student was given the same opportunities and have the choice to take it to the necessary level. 

Here is what this student did to create such an amazing project.
  • She chose a mode of presenting in which she felt comfortable. It happened to be drawing pictures and arranging them in iMovie. Then she voiced over it.   
  • She dove deeper in the resources to obtain more than just the minimum information. 
  • She stayed focused and motivated and demonstrated a high level of effort. 

This is the first self paced unit I have done.  Although I need to reflect further and change some things, I was really pleased with the student outcomes. Even though not all the projects were great, they truly demonstrate each student’s learning.  As we head into the next portion of this unit, I am working to refine my self paced activities and structure. I will continue to give them choice in their final product, so nothing gets in the way of demonstrating their knowledge. I hope the outcome with surprise me once again!