July 16, 2013

Differentiation Course

This spring I took a course on differentiation in math class.  However, it was an online course that utilized TurnItIn, which checks for plagiarism.  I found this stifling as I was scared to tweet or blog anything from the course lest it come up in the search.  (I did ask if I would really be marked down for plagiarizing myself and got sent in a circle - TurnItIn deferred to the instructor and the instructor sent me to TurnItIn - so I decided not to risk it.)  Now, though, the course has ended and I've gotten my grade so I can share anything I want!

Most of the course wasn't strikingly new information, but I did get some good reflecting time.  And some creative writing time - one assignment was a Mathography.  Cool idea, but it asked questions like "Did you find addition or subtraction more challenging?" to which my initial response was "Who remembers that?!" If someone wanted to write reasonable questions, a mathography #matheme would be fun!

The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners
Carol Ann Tomlinson

Styles and Strategies for Teaching High School Mathematics
Edward J. Thomas, John R. Brunting, Pam L. Warrick

The first book is standard stuff, the second is a nice reference with 21 strategies, including explanations and examples (actual math examples! how often does math get to be the example?).

Our final reflection paper included setting goals.  One goal I set was to make a database of strategies to refer to when I'm lesson planning.  I will start by posting the sample lessons I wrote using the different strategies, then decide on a good way to create a database.  What I really want is online index cards - does anything like that exist?  My other goal is to develop a vocabulary list for geometry and share some key words that have different meanings across disciplines with the 10th grade teachers (I'm on a team next year and trying to keep a positive attitude about it).  I'm hoping to make some progress on this goal during the TMC Geometry morning sessions.

And to make this post more than "hey, I'm about to post some different stuff" have a reflection assignment (filled with buzz words! yay edu-speak):

Many of the strategies I have learned about will fit easily into the lessons I use.  However, adding too much variety worries me because I might lose the structure.  Students (and teachers!) need routine; it is important to feeling comfortable in the classroom environment.  When kids walk into my room I do not want them to be worried what to do.  This is why I will maintain “home base seats” (Tomlinson, 104).  I noticed this year that if students walked into the room and found the desks in groups or otherwise out of their usual pairs, nearly every student would ask “are we in groups?” or “are we doing stations?” or “where do I sit?” or “who moved my seat?”  Switching things up is great but doing so in a way that students know where they belong is essential.  Next year I will be sure to have the seats in the same formation every time class starts or, on rare occasion, post clear instructions on where students should sit that they will see as soon as they enter the room.
If we are going to start in assigned seats every class, that means I’ll need an anchor activity to do in those seats before we reach the differentiated portion of the lesson (Tomlinson, 96).  Having an anchor activity to start class means that I can establish an environment of math and focus before sending students off to work on different tasks.  Since students are coming from all different places they need an assignment to get their brains into math mode.  Ideally, students will be focused in all tasks because they want to learn.  However, I find that students often do not recognize how completing an activity will help them toward mastering a concept.  They are equally unaware which concepts they need to work on.  I need to spend some time specifically teaching students to self-assess so they will develop self evaluation skills (D’Amico and Gallaway, 28).  This work will pay off because self aware students are capable of achieving much more than ones who follow along with the class without knowing which tasks they should pay special attention to.
Overall, I am excited to use more differentiation strategies in my classroom.  I believe that having a structure to start and end class will allow me to vary the middle of class more widely without losing kids in the shuffle.  Keeping the resources from this course nearby when I’m planning will also help me remember how many options I have when writing a lesson to reach all of my students.

Still wondering how to make a database of strategies that is searchable, simple (I can't stand things that are visually overwhelming - white space and no clutter are the best), contains links to examples.  Ideas?


  1. I would suggest using evernote as a database. You can make notes for each of the strategies and examples, organize them in a notebook, tag them, and even insert links between notes. And it is searchable! I've started using it to save blog posts I know I will want to refer back to and I have fallen in love.

  2. Thanks! I love that I can make it look like cards. I will share the notebook as soon as I have time to figure out how.