Without a doubt, this chapter amplifies the need for teachers to do real lesson planning. The kind of planning that takes a high level of content knowledge, flexibility, and a instinctive relationship with each student. Differentiation is what separates good teachers from great teachers because instead of reaching “most” kids, they begin to reach “all” kids. As Moss and Brookhart mention on pg. 96, the use of learning targets can help teachers decide how and when to differentiate instruction.
The examples used throughout the chapter highlighted two things for me. First, many well-meaning attempts to differentiate in the classroom fail because the choices themselves are unrelated to the learning target. Specifically, the authors mention the example of allowing students to work in partners may or may not be beneficial to both students but often a teacher has no way of knowing which one. This is not to say that collaboration is not both effective and necessary, but teachers much align their activities with the actual learning target to insure that each and every student can meet their learning goals. The second point of emphasis in the chapter is how time consuming quality differentiated lesson planning can be for teachers. Within the template the authors prescribe on pg. 105, a teacher would do the basic planning by unpacking a Student Expectation (SE) and working to create learning targets to reach the specific standards. However, to differentiate the lesson, they also have to prepare multiple ways to present the content, multiple activities for instruction, and finally multiple assessment methods to show performance towards the learning target. It is no wonder why so many efforts to differentiate in the classroom fail. It is hard and time consuming.
Moss and Brookhart also propose another reason we struggle with differentiation. The concept that many teachers are okay with varying the resources (inputs) but struggle with the idea of varying outputs (such as assignment length). (pg.97) Some of this revolves around a philosophy of grading…is about what a student “earns” or what they “learn”? In my mind this is not an easy debate, but ultimately, in a standards-based grading system, we need to focus on what the student has learned and the evidence we use to make that determination may be different, but the standard should not.
Finally, a much under utilized strategy we have at our disposal is the concept of pre-assessment in terms of a resource for lesson planning as well as goal setting with students. The strategic questions in Fig 6.2 (pg. 98) are excellent resources in which to build a foundation of knowledge about lesson design for an individual classroom or concept. In my experience, pre-assessment rarely gets the attention it deserves in the formative assessment cycle. We must use the information we have about our students (Readiness, Interests & Affect, Learning Profile) to create better learning targets and ultimately better learning experiences.
Luckily, within many NISD classrooms, teachers are utilizing the workshop model of instruction. This is ideal for providing the structure needed to make differentiation possible for teachers and students. The opening portion of the lesson is perfect for introducing the learning target (I encourage using many of the strategies noted in the book and not just writing in on the board). By planning performances of understanding at various levels that involve varying levels of teacher help, the work period provides the ideal time to have teachers differentiate their support and provide formative feedback. The closing portion of a lesson should be used to monitor the success criteria by having students explain their learning process. Following the learning targets philosophy adds a simple question to the closing....a student should not only articulate what they have learned, but be able to determine for themselves (without the teacher) where they are in relation to the learning target. This self-regulation is the difference!!
I would love to hear how you differentiate in your classroom!
Questions to Consider:
· What role do learning targets play in a differentiated lesson?
· Which concept of the “input” or the “output” within the differentiation process, do you and/or your peers struggle with most?
· What secrets do you use to help plan fordifferentiation in you classroom?