Differentiated Instruction

By Brent Vasicek on September 15, 2010
  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

Two words that are pounded into every rookie teacher’s head.Two words that are uttered at staff meetings across the globe. Two words that together pull up more than 324,000 results on Google. What are these two words? Differentiated Instruction. 

This blog contains two short video demonstrations of the ideas in action. Photo: Students kinesthetically learning science vocabulary. 



I can almost hear the ever popular phrase "Who has time?" echoing through the minds of teachers that feel they are already overworked and under-appreciated. Yes, addressing the needs of each unique student in a classroom can seem overwhelming. This is especially true when our roles are extended from that of teacher to counselor, to parent, to secretary, to referee, to banker, etc. But, like a tough math problem, when we break differentiated instruction down into two steps, it is more manageable.

Step One is understanding the variety of ways differentiated instruction can be delivered. In my classroom there are four main ways I accomplish this:

  1. Teaching to a variety of student abilities
  2. Teaching to students’ preferred modality or multiple intelligence
  3. Allowing a choice in skills to demonstrate learning content
  4. Allowing a choice in content to demonstrate the learning of a skill

Step Two is matching a differentiated instruction method with the lesson. Below are some examples of strategies I use that correspond to the list above.

1.  Math “Video Game” Worksheets. This is great in a blended class environment, where an instructor is teaching two grade levels. I customize these worksheets to the topic we are covering in class. Each row of problems increases in difficulty.  A student must demonstrate the mastery of a level before moving onto the next.  This is a fast-paced, fun math period where mistakes mean repeating a level, and paying attention to detail means skipping problems to advance to the next level. Students pop up from their seats after completing a row to see if the game maker (the teacher) will say whether or not they've gained mastery and pass them on. They are encouraged to compete with themselves by getting further in the game each time they play. After thirty minutes I can tell exactly which students are mastering the concept and which students will need extra help. Formative assessment at its most fun! Download a math "video game" sample document.

Below is a video demo of how to execute video game math.  If you cannot see the video below, I have also uploaded the two-minute video demo to YouTube.



2. Science Vocabulary: When teaching science vocabulary, I use the three learning modalities — visual, auditory, and kinesthetic — to ensure every child knows the meaning of new words. The students visualize a representation of the vocabulary word and come up with a short definition that is said each time we do a motion (our own classroom sign language) for that word. For example, for the word "data," we say, “facts and information,” as we visualize numbers and physically type on imaginary keyboards.

Below is a video of my class practicing the Word Wall.  If you are having viewing difficulties, there is a short one-minute demonstration of my class doing this on YouTube.



3.  Spelling Pie: Each week my students must complete a variety of activities to practice their spelling words. The spelling pie allows a student to choose a few slices of pie (each representing a different activity) that best suits their strengths. For the technologically savvy child, there is a PowerPoint pie slice in which the spelling words are practiced by making a presentation. For the mathematically minded student, there is a "What’s Your Word Worth?" pie slice in which he or she calculates the dollar value of each spelling word. Download the spelling pie document.

4.   Technology: One of my technology goals is to teach students the basic skills needed for presenting a quality slide show. The product is a PowerPoint presentation. The choice of what they want to research and present is theirs. Giving them this simple choice allows students to be more excited about learning and increases the value of their product.

So, you see, differentiated instruction doesn’t have to be all that overwhelming. Do not feel as though you have to reinvent the wheel. After all, if you are in need of an idea, there are 324,000 different links to choose from in a Google search.

That's a wrap!
Director Vasicek

www.mrvasicek.com

Comments

Could you give an example of the grammar video game that you use? Love this idea!

Sure. We have some 'old school' grammar books. For example, there is a chapter on using periods and commas. At the end of the chapter are practice exercises. Usually about 6 sets of 10 sentences to edit. Each set focuses on a different task. I assign all 6 sets (60 sentences to edit); however I do it in the style of video game math. This means, they do the first three sentences. If they get them all correct they move to the next set of exercises. If they make mistakes, I assign them the next three sentences. Students needing more practice end up doing more sentences. Students taking the time to double check their work and who get the concept, get to edit fewer sentences. And, if you don't have 'old school' grammar books, just make up your own sentences to edit. Put them in groups of about 10 making each grouping slightly more challenging. Great question, Brent

Brent, I really appreciate your ideas! I would like to do the video game idea as well. 30 minutes feels like a long time. Do you ever do it 15 minutes? About how many days a week do you do it for math?

The vocabulary word wall review was great. I have done some similar activities. Do you have any vocabulary review game ideas to share with us?

Also, with our new state testing the big push is problem solving in math. Most of our state assessment is word problems. Would you be able to blog about that sometime? They have assigned a "Depth of Knowledge" to each tested objective that we teach. I was wondering if you had any ideas on that, too.

Becky, Great questions! I usually do the video game math for about 20 - 25 minutes depending on the type of lesson. With addition, I do it for less time because it is easy. With triple digit multiplication I may do it for a half an hour.

In terms of frequency, I usually do it two or three days in a row about once a month. Of course, you could do it more often. Just don't do it so often that it loses it's novelty because then it will also lose effectiveness.

One variation...I post the answer key in two places in the room. Students check themselves. If they get any problems wrong, then they can come to me for assistance. This way the ownership on learning is more on them, it allows me to be more available for help, and they can often discover their own mistakes by the time they get to my desk.

I do have a fun Word Wall review game we do every Friday. I will be sharing that in a future post, as well as state testing thoughts and opinions.

Thank you for reading. Brent

Love your ideas!

My 3rd grade son has always loved learning and been excited to be at school. However, this year he is not engaged in what he is supposed to be learning in the classroom.

How can I help and what approach do I take with the teacher. I am not a parent that tells a teacher how to do her job and I am very involved in school. His teacher is retiring after this year and there is no excitement in the classroom. I was even bored on the last field trip I went on.

I just do not want him to lose his enthusiasm for learning.

Do you have any advise?

Well, the short answer is, "No, I don't have any advice that can magically address the issue with the teacher." What I do suggest is to supplement his learning with your own field trips or fun educational experiences to reinforce how fun learning can be. Also, use this teacher as an opportunity to teach your child some valuable life skills when it comes to dealing with people who he might not see eye-to-eye with. ~Mr. V.

I can't wait to use the video game math in my class! Thank you for such a creative activity!

Let us know how it goes. Next week will be ways to get the brains all 'in sync' in the morning with rituals and routines. Stay tuned. Director Vasicek

Brent, I really enjoyed this weeks post. You did an awesome job and your kids look like they are having a great time learning and having fun at the same time. Allie

Thank you! Brent

[via email] Mr. Vasicek, I was amazed at your web site and your notable lessons on the Scholastic page. I thought the Math Video game was really cool and was wondering how often you create a new skill level chart. Would it be after a math chapter, during the chapter etc. and how often the kids play this challenge game. I have really enjoyed looking at your collection and wish I would have had a teacher like you! K.M.

K.M., Hello. Thank you for the compliments on the blog. There is no real schedule for a new skill level chart. For 4th grade I tend to do something like this... Week 1: Re-introduce Multiplication (single x single, double x single, triple x single) Week 2: double x double, triple x double Week 3: $ and multiplication Week 4: Video game math (about 3 days) that goes through all of those concepts and extends beyond for those students that can handle it (quad x triple, etc.) I do Video Game Math for addition/subtraction, multiplication, and fractions. Doing it too much wears on the novelty of the idea. I have extended the concept to grammar as well. We have these old (I'm talking ancient)grammar books with practice exercises for subject, predicate, nouns, punctuation, etc. I use these books for the first month of school just to review some basics. It can be boring stuff, but I tell them to do the first 4 sentences of the practice pages at the end of the chapter. There are usually 5-6 practice pages. I check their first four sentences. If it is correct, then they can work on the next section. If the work is not correct, I make them fix what they missed and assign 4 more sentences. It makes that mundane grammar more fun and allows me to see what they know without too much boring repetition for those kids that don't need it. So, to answer your last question, the kids play this Video Math about 9 days of the year. They play Video Grammar about 9 days. Keep it fresh, Brent Vasicek

This is a great post! I love how it ties into what we know about learning modalities and the brain. I am currently working on a nonfiction unit, and I'm working on differentiating a lot more within it. We're singing, sketching, and manipulating objects (i.e. I am cutting apart oranges and the students will draw the halves to show a cutaway). We will be making books and creating interactive text feature displays. Of course this is just a flash in the pan, but the point is, this post could not be more timely. I think differentiation is so organic when you just stop to think about student interests and what you observe about your kiddos! Another positive? It's fun for everyone... including the teacher. I have to admit, I am a Google addict. Thank goodness for teachers who share. Thank you!

Well, thank you Ms. Nickerson! I appreciate you adding some additional positive enthusiasm to this post. Differentiated Instruction can sound like a pain, but really it can be fun as well as helpful. And...there is no ONE way to do it. I love the fact that you are singing with your students in your non-fiction unit. Maybe I will sing in the next video post. On second thought, there is a reason I am not the music teacher. That's a wrap, Director Vasicek

Brent,

I LOVE the video game math! Can't wait to try it in Stadium 21!

Deana

I think you and your kids will enjoy it. Don't forget to do your answer key ahead of time as some of the students are lickety-split as you can see in the video. Video Gamer, Brent

Brent,

Thanks for sharing. I have a Spelling Menu where kids can choose their spelling activities too. I'm just cuious how you got involved with Scholastic and how you went about it/who you contacted. Thanks!

Jennifer, Good question. At the end of last year Scholastic had posted that they were looking for dynamic Teacher Advisors for the new school year. I applied, and I guess they liked what they saw. I became a finalist and was eventually selected to write the blog you are currently reading. Brent

I am really targeting differentiated instruction this year. Thanks for sharing how you do it. I really like the spelling pie idea.

You are so welcome! Brent

LOVE LOVE LOVE the Math game!!! What a great way to reach each of my students on their level AND have an assessment tool!

THANKS!

Leah, You are welcome. Your kids will love it, too. It might take a couple times for them to get the flow of it, but I find it a great way to assess, challenge, and spice up the math. Game over, Brent

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