How to Differentiate When Your Program Is the Differentiation: One School’s Success

33 Digital Tools for Advancing Formative Assessment in the Classroom As I am sitting here thinking about the hectic fall season that is to come, I have been reflecting on many of the workshops that I facilitated last year. Reflecting helps me to remember the struggles and successes that partners have experienced and gives me stories to share with the new partners that I meet.

One story that sticks in my mind is an Informing Instruction workshop (part of our MAP Foundation Series) that I facilitated at a cyber-school. The focus of this workshop is on digging into specific ways of using MAP data to differentiate, form flexible groups, and build instructional ladders. Many of the partners that I have encountered are using technology to enhance learning, but what do you do when you are a cyber-school and learning is already individualized, self-paced, and entrenched with technology? Well, this was the struggle for this school’s leadership and their staff. How could they use the Learning Continuum to individualize instruction even more for their students?

A challenge for the school was getting students to work in groups. Many of their students were in the program because of the flexibility that it gave them. Some had jobs, some had family responsibilities, and some had experienced little success in school because they did not learn at the pace that the teacher was teaching. The online curriculum was self-paced, and there was not a mandate to attend daily online sessions or to interact with others. Many students were not even aware of who their classmates were. The school did provide individualized small group assistance on site, but students rarely came, some because of transportation, some because they did not want to engage in extra work, and some because of their life circumstances. This lack of interaction was a big concern for the school.

As the day progressed and we worked through the differentiated instruction segment of the session, the group began to brainstorm ways to connect students who were working on similar skills. The session videos sparked ideas. Their curriculum was individualized and there were specific skills that students were targeting, so they knew that they had been differentiating instruction, but when they began to talk about how they might be able to group students based on their interests, they began to see intriguing possibilities.

Each activity led to a greater desire to group students by interests, to get working together and to push their learning to a deeper understanding of the concepts. However, their learning management system did not provide a way to create “lessons” outside of the set curriculum, so they decided to create their own websites for displaying group lessons. Student would be able to choose from among five topics and work through the activities with virtual or face-to-face partners. Each unit consisted of a science or social studies topic and incorporated reading, writing and math skills. Lexile scores helped identify appropriate reading passages, so that a student’s reading level didn’t prohibit them from pursuing an interest. Finally, teachers used the Learning Statements from their Ladders to choose specific skills to target for each student.

By the end of the day, they were so excited that they had already created the website, designed several lessons, and had even begun to talk about how they would solicit ideas from students. They added a page on the website for students to share resources and tools related to the topics, as well as a space where students could recommend ideas for future collaborative activities.

I left the session quite pleased with their success, but even more pleased with their creativity and ability to use data to provide more in-depth and targeted learning experiences for their students. This was a truly great group of teachers and administrators. I wish them success and hope that their success gives our readers some ideas for instruction in their buildings.

I welcome your input and challenge you to share your success stories with other readers.