Thursday, October 7, 2010

Differentiation in 1st Grade Math

Differentiated Instruction is a way to insure all students has access to the curriculum. The content, process or product can be differentiated based on the student’s readiness, interests, or learner profile. Sounds simple, right? Talking about differentiation is one thing but acting on it is often a more difficult task. Differentiation is math is especially difficult for some teachers. We work hard making all sorts of “stuff”, different worksheets, tools, and other materials. Despite our best intentions, what typically happens is the standard (or benchmark) get watered down instead of differentiated. In a recent blog post Differentiated Instruction: What Difference Does it Make?   David Ginsburg makes the following point:
But does it really matter whether DI is a bad idea, as Mike Schmoker insists, or a badly implemented one? Either way, effective teaching includes assessing and addressing students' individual differences.
There are three key things every teacher needs to know to be successful at teaching. You need to know:
1.     Your students,
2.     Your curriculum (standards, resources, materials), and
3.     How to make it visible to others (including your students!).

The first two are familiar to all teachers but the last one is generally not given the importance it deserves. Visibility can take many forms. It can be the planning the teacher does before the lesson, recorded in a lesson plan. It can be charted, to keep a concrete record of previous learning. It can be the portfolio of individual student work, documenting growth and acquisition of a skill or strategy. It’s the formative assessment, the assessment FOR learning, that makes differentiation so powerful.

In this video Alane Wright, 1st grade teacher at Neptune Beach Elementary, talks about how she differentiated a math lesson for her students.

Charting in 1st Grade Math from Jill Kolb on Vimeo.

Key in this lesson was the simple changes Alane made to meet the readiness level of her students. By giving some students dice with dots, and some with numbers, and some with a combination of both dots and numbers, all students were able to meet the benchmark. Also key was the charting Alane did with her students. The students with the least efficient strategy – counting each dot on both dice – now have a visual reminder of other options for combining situations when they are developmentally ready for it!

So what is the next step? For me, I am only as good as the resources I have around me. Reading blogs and books are like learning to fish. If I want to keep eating, oops…teaching math to young students, I’ll need to fish for new ideas. One book I love is Math For All: Differentiating Instruction (K-2). There is also another version for Grades 3-5 and 6-8. While it is not the kind of book that you can open up and say, “Oh, I can do that tomorrow!” it is an outstanding resource that will show you how other classroom teachers have differentiated math lessons for their students.

Designing good differentiated lessons includes the important step of making visible all the learning going on in your classroom. Charting with your students is one key way of documenting their growth. I would love to hear about ways you differentiated math with your students or different charting ideas. Thanks in advance for sharing.

1 comment:

  1. I love the idea of filming the teacher talking through her ideas and thoughts during teaching and planning. What a valuable tool for other teachers to see! Differentiation is so important. Thanks for sharing how you're thinking through it and learning more and more about this topic!