Resources that provide support on how to practically apply DI in the classroom are extremely useful, as most resources are more theoretical and do not actually show you what DI looks like in the classroom; in my opinion, Diane Heacox’s latest book is the best resource I have encountered to provide teachers with the tools to use DI daily. Making Differentiation a Habit (2009) is an excellent resource as it takes explains the process of how to differentiate, it addresses challenges and concerns that you may face, and it provides an abundance of practical resources that teachers can use in the classroom.
The first part of the book answers the question, “How do I differentiate?” A key component of this resource is that it takes you through the process step by step. First, Heacox helps you to identify your learning goals by identifying the KUDo’s for the unit by asking yourself the questions: What do I want my students to know, understand, and be able to do by the end of the unit? (p. 6). Specifically, know incorporates facts, rules, and vocabulary, understand encompasses the big ideas of the unit and the essential concepts to be learned, and dodescribes the skills and processes that students should be able to perform independently (p. 6-7). These three components directly relate to the Ontario Science Curriculum document (2007) for Relating Science and Technology to Society and the Environment (understand), Developing Investigation and Communication Skills (do), and Understanding Basic Concepts (know). Heacox states that the unit KUDo’s should be shared and posted in the classroom to provide students with an understanding of the goals of the unit and how to be successful on assessments (p. 8). Sharing the learning goals and success criteria with students is connected to the Growing Success Document (2010) which states that teachers need to “share learning goals and success criteria with students at the outset of learning to ensure that students and teachers have a common and shared understanding of these goals and criteria as learning progresses” (p. 28). I would suggest that teachers write out the KUDo’s for themselves first and then work with their students to co-construct the learning goals and success criteria in student-friendly language; thereby, ensuring that students are actively involved in constructing meaning through the unit.
Heacox provides several examples of assessment for learning that can be used to help teachers recognize the preconceptions their students already have regarding particular concepts:
· Topic webs (similar to the concept maps) can be used individually or in groups to determine facts and ideas about a topic and then these ideas are written onto a sticky note and placed onto a chart paper. Several topic webs are then merged together and the sticky notes are moved around to create a large class topic web with interconnected ideas and relationships between the concepts are discussed (p. 31-32)
· Walkabout charts (similar to a gallery walk) are used to have groups answer an open-ended question. Charts are then posted and groups walk around and record comments/questions on other groups’ charts (p. 33)
· KWI chart (similar to KWL charts) that asks students what do you know, what do you want to know, and what are you interestedin learning? This allows teachers to include topics/questions into the unit that they may not have thought of, but will increase the interest/motivation of the groups (p. 35).
Once teachers have conducted self-reflections of their teaching practice and conducted pre-assessment of their students’ preconceptions and interests, they are ready to begin using a Differentiated Learning Plan (DLP), which provides students with choice of assignments and tiering to meet diverse needs. Heacox (2009) states that there are nine parts to a DLP:
· KUDo’s based on expectations
· Pre-assessment notes (preconceptions and interests from student surveys)
· The hook to get kids interested and motivated (e.g. artwork, article, anecdote, timeline)
· Content delivery (the actual lesson itself) which may include differentiation of resources or learning goals dependent on the needs of the students
· Application activities which show how students will learn the concepts, skills, or processes presented in the lessons (this is where teachers can use choice boards or tier assignments for diverse learning needs based on multiple intelligences, readiness, or complexity)
· Independent activities which allow students to demonstrate their learning
· Closure to reinforce the concepts that they have learned (e.g. Think-Pair-Share, Exit Cards)
· Teacher reflection and next steps (p. 58-62)
If teachers were to simply read all these steps, it would seem daunting, but Heacox provides several sample DLPs from a variety of grades and subject areas. The plans are relatively quick and only have a few points written under each heading. DLP: Example #3 is based on Desert Ecosystems (Middle School) and shows the use of graphic organizers, websites, group tasks, and exit slips throughout the lesson (p. 67-68). In this case, the independent activity is a choice based on interest: choose an animal or plant from the food web and explain what would happen if it disappears. Students are to either illustrate the effects on the ecosystem by either writing an article (Verbal/Linguistic) or creating a chart/diagram (Logical or Visual/Spatial) (p. 68). By seeing the actual sample DLP, I see that they are similar to lesson plans that I am familiar with, but incorporate choice boards, tiering, and reflection.
Heacox (2009) then takes the reader through the process of creating choice boards and tiering assignments. Chapters 5 and 6 are dedicated to this process and contain an abundance of examples to show readers how simple this process can actually be. I would be stumped if I did not have this many examples before my eyes. Heacox does a good job of taking a potentially difficult task and breaking it down into something feasible by providing examples and explanations along the way.
There is also practical advice on how to differentiate tasks by tiering assignments for various learning groups. When reading through her work, I thought that this strategy would not work well because students would realize that they were being “leveled” into groups and might feel resentful. When looking over the samples she provides, I saw that she does not make a distinction between students who “get it” and those that do not; instead, the basis of the task is the same, but one group may receive additional support or more scaffolded directions, while the other group may have a chance for enrichment and exploration. Heacox (2009) states that “tiering by degree of structure provides some students with more support or direction for their work while other students engage in a more open-ended task.” (p. 91). For example, the Tiering by degree of abstraction example for high school English has both groups providing 10 artifacts to represent a character in the novel. The first group is to choose 10 items and represent the connection to the character, while the second group chooses 10 items to symbolize the character and connect these items to the theme of the novel (p. 91). A slight change in wording, but a dramatic change in complexity as both groups will have 10 items, but one group has the chance to extend their understanding and make more sophisticated and abstract connections. Heacox (2009) provides step-by-step instructions on how to tier assignments and suggests a three tier approach: task one is for some students (more scaffolded for those who struggle), task two is for most students (on target), and task three is for some students (more abstract and open-ended for enrichment) (p. 88-97).
The best part of this resource is that she has worked with teachers mainly in the U.S. and Canada, but has also studied teachers in Great Britain, Germany, India, and Singapore, so she understands the questions and concerns that teachers have regarding differentiated instruction (p. 1). Throughout the last few chapters of the book, she provides more sample DLPs, strategies, choice boards, and charts to provide teachers with tons of resources to get started with incorporating DI in their classrooms on a regular basis. This resource was created for teachers in mind and includes practical strategies, step-by-step directions, a CD of blackline masters, and answers any questions you may have on DI in the classroom. There always seems to be a new government mandate for education; however, teachers are not always provided with the tools and strategies to apply these theories in practice. Diane Heacox does an excellent job in making teachers more comfortable with applying DI in their classrooms. If teachers are confident in their abilities and in the tools they have, then both teachers and students will benefit.
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