Archive for the ‘Differentiated Instruction’ Category

My first “game show” menu

I’ve taken the last few weeks while my students were in keyboarding to plan my first unit with a differentiated menu.

Here it is: Medieval Choice Projects

NOTE: Some instructions may seem “spotty” – that’s because students have a copy of the directions for each “type”of assignment already.

There were a few items I wanted to think through – daily accountability, “work as you go” capability, and integrating technology and still keeping the notebook as the student’s portfolio.

This is my current plan:
I will do direct instruction on Mondays and Wednesdays – students will have some lecture, plenty of visuals, some independent  or group work, and review.

Tuesdays and Thursdays will be choice board days. There will be six of them during the unit, which should provide plenty of work time.

Fridays will be for quiz, catch up and review. (or an alternate project work day if a lesson needs more than one day to complete).

Since the students have six days and six options, they will need to complete one option per day.

I chose the game show menu from Laurie Westphal’s book, and I like it – it is sort of “Jeopardy” style, with categories at the top and project choices ranging in point values under each one.

Things I like about this menu style:

  • It allowed me to have project choices for every indicator of my standards.
  • Students must choose at least one assignment from each category, but they can focus their energy on the category that appeals most to them. (The goal is to earn 100 points)

The menu is going to go after the notes for the medieval unit, and projects will be completed in the notebook. I’ll have notebook sized white paper cut for the posters and sensory figures – models will have pictures taken of and glued in, etc.

It was pretty challenging pulling the project choices together, and as with anything else, I’m sure this will be a learning experience in the implementation.

I start this with my first class on Monday, I’ll update as I go.


Differentiation with Menus: Social Studies by Laurie Westphal – A Review

This book was recommended to me by a teacher whose opinion I respect, so I ordered it immediately and anxiously waited for it to come in the mail.

Friday afternoon there was an Amazon box on my doorstep and I sat down and read it immediately.

I think the book has many good qualities:

  • It is thin – only 113 pages long. There is a 12 page introductory chapter on the benefits of “choice” and a description of the menu types found in the book.
  • There are four basic types of menus described in the book – clearly described with advantages and limitations.
  • The “meat” of the book is a collection of menus that can be used in social studies classes – from ancient history, to United States history, to government. I find it helpful to have examplars to work from.
  • The book also includes a list of assignments with descriptors and a general assignment rubric.

It is a starter “how to” manual for designing a menu, but it is not a guide to implementation. If you are looking for classroom management or organization strategies, this book is not for you. If you have already done some work with tiered assignments or choice boards, this book is not for you.

I don’t regret buying it – I gleaned some ideas from it, and it will be great to share with colleagues who are just getting started. It is, in my opinion, for beginners only.

My Understanding of Differentiation

“You keep using this word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya, Princess Bride


It is definately an educational buzzword. Like many buzzwords, people use it without thinking too much about what it means, or what it looks like. I was talking to another teacher who is being encouraged to differentiate instruction for her students about some of the things I do in my classroom. Finally, she interupted me and asked “What does choice have to do with differentiation?”

So, let’s start with a working definition. I like this one from Chapman and Gregory:

“Differentiation is a philosophy that enables teachers to plan strategically in order to reach the needs of the diverse learners in classrooms today.”

It is a philosophy, not a strategy in and of itself.  Differentiation is the basic belief that students have different strengths/weaknesses, different interests, and different levels of background knowledge and that that belief should mold our teaching.

You can differentiate:

  • Content – what you teach
  • Process – how you teach it/students learn it
  • Assessment – how students demonstrate what they learn

I feel choice is an important part of differentiation because it is a motivator. Don’t you like having a choice? Students do too – and many strategies for implementing differentiation involve menus or contracts which are choice based.

Right now, I mainly use low prep ways to differentiate. I do informal pre-assessments to differentiate instruction, offer choices to differentiate product, keep anchor activities at the ready for students who work quickly.

How do you differentiate in your classroom?

For further reading:

Technology Options – first steps

This week I started rotating my students through the four laptops I have in my classroom during independent work time. I gave them a choice of four simple items – play a review game, participate in compass learning, create a one slide presentation about the four ecological zones around the Niger River, or draw a freehand map of Africa in Paint and show the zones.

This is what I learned:

  • My laptops are slooooooooooooow. No big surprise, I inherited them in the great tech upgrade. Therefore:
  • It would be best to have the first students log on immediately, then go over when it is time.
  • Web options will take longer than program options due to the slowness of the connection. I will also need to consider sending the students to computers out of the room that are faster for some choices.
  • Other reflections:
  • The kids doing it loved it, the kids not doing it were distracted a bit by it, but as they all rotate through I think that will diminish.
  • I will need at least two work periods a week when I can maximise the rotation – 3 a day means it will take 2 weeks to rotate the children through.

It was a simple experiment, but overall I think it worked well. This time I had the students complete the activities as an experiential activity as I was simply testing the method- and I’m wondering if I just want to leave it at that. There are beautiful rubrics on the web, and I’m a pretty good hand at writing them myself, but I gave each child feedback as they completed their option. Must everything be “graded”? As Einstein said “Not everything that matters can be counted.” Hmmm.

First steps

My goal this year is differentiation and creating more independent workers.  As I start planning my first big DI unit, I wanted to try something on a smaller scale first 😉

I took my first steps this week. I wrote up an “instruction sheet” on the Roman achievement – about two days worth of independent/partner work that could be self directed.

While students were working, I conferenced and rotated pairs of students through an activity on my promethean board.


It was amazing conferencing with students. It will take me two days to actually “conference” with students though.

I would like to have more than one activity to rotate students through, and it doesn’t have to be technology.

I think I would prefer one day whole class/one day independent work. That would allow me two days to actually conference with all of the kids.

This was just a trial run – I’ll use these thoughts in designing my first unit!

Getting ready to write my first di/layered curriculum unit

For any of you who have never heard about layered curriculum, it is a differentiated instructional strategy developed by Kathie Nunley. You can read an overview of the strategy here.

Basically, the idea is that you create a contract with your students about what they will learn. Basic content is located in the “C” layer, a bit more advanced in the “B” layer, and then the “A” level which would be the most challenging. You come up with a list of assignments and students choose from that list to earn a certain number of points which adds in to one grade.

I’ve always been intrigued by this idea – who doesn’t like choices? I teach young children though, and experience tells me they are not ready for two weeks or so of independent work. I also believe that children benefit from a certain amount of direct instruction. I don’t like the lack of grades, either – my units can run 3-4 weeks and I don’t think that number of grades in a quarter is very fair. So, I would find myself taking bits and pieces of the strategy, and return to it every so often for ideas.

I think I might have actually figured out a way to make this work for myself and my students.

I use the interactive notebook for the “meat” of my content. I plan on blogging more about that here as well, but that’s another post.  I see this as the “C” or lower levels of bloom’s taxonomy activities. Everyone would be responsible for these assignments, although I would allow choices in the interpretive assignments.

I’m seeing the “B” level as a technology based level. Blogging, interactive websites, study games, mini-tech projects using Inspiration, PPT, etc. Students would have a choice of these assignments. They would be responsible for earning a certain number of points from these assignments and would rotate through the laptops/other tech I have access to (we are not a 1:1 school, so choice and time are key elements in using what we have available). Click here for a great resource – Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy.

The A level would feature a choice of projects at the highest level of Bloom’s, incorporating the multiple intelligences.

So, as all ideas, its a hodgepodge inspired from many sources – the reason I returned to it yet again was the lack of 1:1 tech and wanting to use it to motivate my students.

The steps as I see them:

1) Start with the standards and identify the basic level info.

2) Design a list of tasks to take students from basic to deeper understanding of the content.

3) Create a workable schedule – balance direct instruction with opportunity to pursue project choices.

4) Try and reflect, try and reflect, try and reflect 🙂

As I work with my first unit, I’ll post each step of the process.

Wish me luck.