Differentiation in the Secondary Classroom

Differentiation at the secondary level is possible. Here are ways to help all students have success.

Differentiation in the secondary classroom? It is expected, required. Students benefit from it. It improves classroom management.

Still, differentiation is a juggling act for teachers. Here are ways to manage. 

Differentiation is the act of making something different. (Duh). In education, differentiation can take on several approaches:

  1. Considering learning styles. Some students prefer listening to a story, others prefer reading it, and others would enjoy acting out the story.
  2. Moving at varying speeds. Once upon a time, a teacher gave every student the same worksheet, and all students moved through the worksheet. Some students understood the concept, some students were bored with the concept, and some were left behind. The teacher forged ahead, more than likely teaching to the middle.
  3. Adjusting questions/ groups. This involves accounting for student interest and abilities. In the ELA classroom, it may involve stations: some students will identify verbs in simple sentence, some will identify verbs in complex or compound-complex sentences, some will identify verbs in sentences that contain verbals, and others will identify the verb and mark its mood and voice.

Educators can break down differentiation numerous ways, and those listed above are broad concepts.

Differentiation in the secondary classroom can be a challenge. Here are seven ways to provide meaningful, differentiated instruction to your students.

Differentiation is wonderful, from all sides. As a parent, my children have had teachers who are dedicated to differentiation, and our children have moved along a different speeds. They learned more because of differentiation.

All teachers want to give other people’s children the same opportunities.

It is impossible without help, though.

A teacher who differentiates by going alone – creating materials (and imagining and researching) will face burnout. Other teachers need implementation help. Some teachers are unsure of what differentiation involves. Twenty years ago (yes, I typed that), differentiation was not part my teacher training. So…

Implementing differentiation into the secondary classroom presents several problems for the teacher. It may seem unnatural, may seem overwhelming, and may be unknown.

Thankfully, the Internet is here to help. Here are ways online resources can help with differentiation in the secondary classroom.

  1. Pre-assessment. Dividing students into groups is great, but unless you know what students know, groups won’t make much sense. Many publishers will give pre-assessment tools away for free, giving teachers a ‘taste’ of the big unit. Start with those, and then branch out.
  2. Fun, attention-grabbing messages. Youtube and Pinterest give me tons of introductory materials. Sometimes, students upload their final products from other teachers! These can serve as examples or as review material. Using images of plays (in production), art from a story’s time period, or advertisements related to a theme provide differentiated learning, too.
  3. Aps. I teach in a 1:1 school, so I am fortunate in this area. Technology can allow students to create products that showcase their understanding. Right now, I am researching resources for creating pieces of a graphic novel for my mythology unit. This is one area that allows differentiation.
  4. Content specific websites. For ELA, I’m referencing No Red Ink and Khan Academy.
  5. Watch other teachers differentiate. Cult of Pedagogy has us covered with an extensive list, a differentiation toolkit if you will. If you are unsure where to begin with differentiation, watch other teachers in action.
  6. Social Media. Step aside from pinning for a moment, and participate in Twitter chats, research Instagram posts, and participate in Facebook groups. Join with professionals from around the world and share ideas for differentiation. Ask questions. I would suggest the 2ndaryELA and Grammar Gurus Facebook groups.
  7. Teachers Pay Teachers. This is my go-to resource, as I follow my favorite sellers that I trust to provide quality for my students. Teachers Pay Teachers trusts teachers and believes that with the right tools, teachers can change the world. With so many inspired minds collaborating, it is the first place I turn for my differentiation needs.

What have I purchased lately? So glad you asked. Currently, I am teaching Romeo and Juliet, and I needed help differentiating my unit. For identifying literary devices with my students, I wanted multiple tools – with pictures. I knew that some students would be confused by the plot, so I bought comics. I wasn’t thrilled with how I taught iambic pentameter, so I used this lesson.

Differentiating involves maneuvering lesson plans and collaborating with other teachers, but the finished product is beautiful.

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