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Differentiate: It Works

More than Basics

Teachers in today’s “reformed” schools often are pressured by time, mandates, and test scores into lessons that:

Post the objective.

State the objective.

Explain the objective.

Practice the objective.

Test the objective.

Evaluate the objective.

Move on or reteach the objective.


But to engage students, and to meet diverse needs, teaches must differentiate.

Sometimes we can add art into the lesson.

For instance, we learned (see above steps) Reading Comprehension 2.2.3 Literary Elements: Characterization. After a lesson and discussion, we created one Google Document to which all students collaborated traits and supporting actions for each main character in our story in the Global Read Aloud 2011, Tuck Everlasting. Working on a Google Doc (Google Apps for Education) allows everyone to participate and see what others suggest. As a teacher, I can watch the ideas and prepare for the discussion as well as comment to encourage students. So we then discussed our responses, adding more ideas to each others’ initial responses. Afterwards, students demonstrated the objective with the following process.

Note: a frame provides the foundation to focus on the object and to save time; it provides the outline into which the students creatively add their characterization responses.

•    Wrote the title/author in the top frame of a character frame template.
•    Read the pages describing the character’s physical description, and drew the character within the picture frame template.
•    Added into the character’s hands the most important prop for that character relevant to that story.
•    Listed the most important personality trait for the character on the bottom frame of the poster.
•    Explained the evidence from the text for that trait in the left side frame.
•    Explained how the character’s trait affected the plot in the right side frame.

What happened:

Within this art lesson, the students who usually just make the standard even after several reteaching sessions, were shining. They created a text-based image including not just an appropriate, but pointedly relevant prop. They helped others discover the best prop for their characters. Where usually these students fail, just this twist of objectives that allowed them to “visualize” through art this story and their characters, they demonstrated a deeper level of understanding into more than Reading Comprehension 2.2.3 Literary Elements: Characterization. They discussed cause/effect, setting, plot, and character while reminding others of the story events from the particular point of view in which their little minds work.

In our mandate to teach all the standards to mastery, time is the enemy. Pressure forces lessons to cover enough objectives so students can pass The Test that determines student progress, school-wide growth, and teacher effectiveness. Differentiation seems to demand lessons that meet the needs of students who think and work differently, who need a different framework from which to understand the objective and its required response. This lesson differentiated the product so students who struggle with strictly linguistic responses could demonstrate that they did understand the character development. However, this project took time, time from other objectives because art takes time. How many students think in ways that prevent them from answering textual questions in written responses? How many are retaught and re-skilled over and over in ways that don’t meet their needs because of the lack of time to plan and implement lessons that would open their pathways to expressing comprehension and application of the objective? How much is the pressure of classroom mandates affecting the learning community?

Differentiation is not individualization; it is knowing student readiness, interests, and learning profiles. Flexible grouping and respectful tasks provide the vehicle through which students and teachers in a community of learners can successfully learn standards. Our goal is for all students to shine. Start slowly; build differentiation. Revise lessons to engage the students. Differentiation is one way.

Resources for differentiation:


Robert Sternberg Differentiation pdf

Sheri Edwards View All

Geeky Gramma ~~
Retired Middle School Language Arts/Media Teacher ~~
Writer and Thinker~~
Art from the Heart

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