The Thanksgiving holidays are fast-approaching, and I am excited. This is the time of year when I get to cook some of my favorite seafood dishes for friends and family. As I plan the menu for roughly thirty people, I have quite a bit to consider:
- What about those who are expecting traditional soul food?
- How do I accommodate those with food allergies, diabetes, or high blood pressure?
- What about kids who are picky eaters?
- How will I rearrange the dining area to give everyone access to the food?
- What type of decorations will I use?
- How will I make sure everyone is seated comfortably?
- Will I use my fine china or disposable plates and cutlery?
I’m overwhelmed just thinking about this!
If you're a teacher, this uneasiness sounds a lot like planning for classroom instruction. Our students have so many different wants and needs. And, when we are designing learning experiences for them, we have to take those wants and needs into account while trying to determine what students will learn, how they will learn, and how they will show mastery. In other words, as teachers, we have to differentiate instruction to ensure that students have what they need to be successful in our classrooms every day.
Like me, with holiday meal planning, many teachers see differentiation as a daunting task. But, what exactly is differentiation? According to Ed Glossary, differentiation is a wide variety of teaching techniques and lesson adaptations that educators use to instruct a diverse group of students, with diverse learning needs, in the same course, classroom, or learning environment. Carol Ann Tomlinson, a leader in the area of differentiation, describes it as factoring students’ individual learning styles and levels of readiness prior to designing a learning experience. Taken together, this sounds complicated and time consuming. But, it doesn’t have to be.
Active Classroom Differentiation Strategies
Active Classroom has a variety of features to aid teachers in planning for the diverse needs of their social studies students. Here are eight ways that teachers can use Active Classroom to differentiate instruction:
- Use the Quiz builder to create assessments. Pre-assessments can be generated to determine students’ level of readiness or interest prior to starting a learning experience. Active Classroom has a variety of assessment options. Teachers can use the Quiz Builder or create their own quiz with a variety of question types, including free response, video analysis, and more.
- Use activity sets to differentiate content. Content is what students learn. Teachers can provide a variety of readings based on lexile levels, the type of task they are having students to complete to build their background by including videos, powerpoints, simulations, or readings.
- Use activity sets to differentiate the process, or how students will learn. Teachers can vary how students engage with the learning based on their preferred learning style. Within activity sets, students can choose the order in which they would like to complete the activities, or even which types of activities they would like to complete to reach the learning goal. Differentiating the process allows teachers to personalize instruction for students.
- Use the accessibility features in Active Classroom such as text to speech, translations, and dictionaries to aid students in reading and viewing. Active Classroom has a built in text to speech tool bar that can read text aloud. It also has translations that convert selected words into the chosen target language. Additionally, the dictionary feature defines words, as well as has a read aloud option and has a picture dictionary.
- Use activity features such as annotations, and/or print to help students better interact with the text. Students can use the annotate feature to highlight sections of the text in different colors to identify the main idea and supporting evidence, ask questions, or add emphasis. Teachers can provide feedback on student annotations within the platform. Also, the print feature allows students to reproduce the entire activity or specific sections. Some students still need paper and pencils.
- Use activity sets to differentiate products, or how students show mastery. By doing this, teachers give students voice and choice about how they wish to express their learning. A good product allows students to apply what they know and can do, extends their understanding and involves higher order thinking skills. In Active Classroom, teachers can place different types of tasks, such as mapping, decision-making tasks, close reading or primary source analysis within an activity set and allow students to choose which one(s) they would like to complete to demonstrate mastery.
- Use Active Classroom to differentiate the learning environment by grouping. Groupings are how students are arranged in the classroom or paired up with other students. Teachers can use grouping strategies to address specific learning needs, and allow opportunities for students to work independently, in pairs, in small groups, or whole class with the teacher and/or using technology. Groupings should be fluid and flexible. Active Classroom allows teachers to create groups to organize students by learning style, reading level, or other criteria.
- Use Active Classroom to create your own activities. Customized activities can contain text, images, hyperlinks, and videos, and can be added to any activity set.
The point of differentiation is not to dumb down content or make it easy for struggling students. The point is to increase access and engagement so that mastery is achievable for all students. Active Classroom’s range of resources makes differentiation feasible for teachers.
As I think back to my upcoming holiday cooking charge, my goal is not individualize every single meal for every single person. I am not a full time chef. But, my goal is to personalize the meal enough so that everyone, regardless of their dietary needs or personal preferences, can enjoy our time together. The diverse spread of both cajun and traditional soul food should do the trick.
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Great Schools Partnership. (2013, November 7). Differentiation. The Glossary of Education Reform. Retrieved November 1, 2021, from https://www.edglossary.org/differentiation/.
Tomlinson, Carol Ann. The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners. 2nd ed., ASCD, 2014.
“Webinar (10/13/15): Differentiating Instruction - Social Studies School Service.” Youtube, Social Studies School Service, 13 Oct. 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xqndb6U2DsY.
McCarthy, John. “Differentiation Design Guide.” Opening Paths, 28 Feb. 2021, https://openingpaths.org/blog/2020/11/differentiation-design-guide/.
McCarthy, John. “A Practical Guide to Planning for Intentional Differentiation.” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, 26 Mar. 2021, https://www.edutopia.org/article/practical-guide-planning-intentional-differentiation.
LaTonya Amboree is a knowledgeable, charismatic educational leader, curriculum writer, and ideator that innovates professional learning in order to provide authentic learning experiences and resources to promote 21st century learning. LaTonya currently serves as a Senior Specialist at an education service center in Texas, and has nineteen total years in education. She is extremely passionate about social studies education, and enjoys providing professional learning opportunities for teachers, administrators, and other education specialists.