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How do you differentiate on a daily basis? Do you use specific data to ensure effectiveness?

This is my first year teaching and it has been a wild ride! While I have improved on my questioning and planning I am still struggling with differentiation. How do you differentiate on a daily basis? Do you try to hide your differentiation as to not alienate your students? Are they aware that they are receiving different work? Do you use specific data to ensure effectiveness? When do you differentiate? Classwork? Homework? Both?
Any and all suggestions, advice, stories, what not to do stories or any sort of response is welcomed and appreciated!Thank you very much.

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    R H

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    May 10 2014: Differentiation (if I understand it correctly, as providing different students with different avenues to learning) is, in my opinion, the holy grail of education - second only to one-on-one customized tutoring. We must begin to celebrate our differences. We must realize that we all have something to offer, in our own way, and that when we see things differently, or speak differently, or believe differently that this is an asset not a hindrance. I want what works for me. You want what works for you. We all want everyone to do and be their best. If your students could enter the school year and choose the method of instruction they preferred, would they all choose the same one? Hardly. It's a lot more work I'm sure, and you're not getting paid any more to provide such diverse instruction to appeal to the most students. But you seem to be motivated by something else. Maybe that's why you went into teaching... All the very best to you and those fortunate enough to have you as their teacher.
    • May 11 2014: Thank you so much for your reply and comment!
      It's true, life would be easier if students came to school aware of their strengths and weaknesses and even their preferences. Maybe teachers could use a survey in the beginning of the year to help students decide what kind of learner then make decisions based off that.
      I love what you said about celebrating our differences but with teenagers who worry so much about what other people think that is a challenge! Do you have any suggestions about how that could be incorporated into class ir even a whole school environment?
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        R H

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        May 11 2014: I tend to speak (usually) in altruistic themes. I try to reflect the ideal, or goal, of a particular topic. When I say "we must begin to celebrate our differences" I mean just that - that we must 'begin'. And in this case 'immersion' into teenagers respecting each other's cultural contribution could probably be met with much resistance and even ridicule from them, to the point of distraction. I don't know the demographics of where u work, but all kids (especially teenagers) have a lot on their plate these days. So as to what I think could be incorporated in the classroom today (since u asked), is to make it a predominant group 'theme'. Make it 'a given', not something that has to be taught, but something already known and almost taken for granted. So when someone breaches that 'theme' in the classroom, u set the tone that that is the most ridiculous thing u ever heard and make it laughable. The way I would start is to make a short clear statement in the very beginning that this is how ur class operates, and u expect them to do the same. So short and clear that u feel it's almost silly to have to mention. Then going forward, find ways to compliment or praise all of the different 'differences' in the class as having made a significant contribution - even (especially?) if it causes dissent, because that's when they can learn how to negotiate, control their emotions, and respect another's view. Thank u for asking me to contribute further. I hope I've been able to offer something positive.
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    May 12 2014: One valuable resource for math teachers at every level (not just new teachers!) is the NCTM website. If you search for *differentiation*, you will find excellent advice from current teachers.

    I hope too that your school district offers Professional Development in this essential area. If you are not already part of a community of learners within your school district, I hope you will find one online. There are websites dedicated to the exchange of ideas in curriculum and pedagogy in mathematics!

    Do the New York Schools still have an extensive coaching program in which mentors, typically former star teachers, are assigned to new math teachers?
  • May 12 2014: Ideally they would all have unique lesson plans and be given the chance to share what they've learned, to take their turn as teacher. This motivates them to really understand and to appreciate your position. They will have fun watching their friends trying to teach. Somehow you would need to orchestrate this chaotic symphony to keep a positive, accepting tone. Perhaps part of a student's score, would be how their peers rate them and how well the class averaged on a quiz of the given lesson
  • May 11 2014: First,thank you for teaching and caring enough to try and improve your techniques. There are many teachers in this forum, perhaps a few of them will provide some experiential wisdom.

    I am going to assume it is similar to some of my life experiences and offer some ideas.
    1) You have to do what you think is right for each different situation. You were put there because someone had confidence in your ability to make these decisions. Go forward with confidence.
    2) You class is probably 20-30 children that have wildly different backgrounds, maturity levels, learning abilities, knowledge and understanding of the material you present. You can try to tailor the delivery to individual students, or selected groups, but you can't do that very effectively in a class period.
    3) The kids, parents, and admin will hold you accountable for any unfairness or perceived unfairness, or difference between your class and other classes. Some of what I think might be considered differentiation might also be perceived as unfairness.
    4) I am a big proponent of work ethic, and I did not test well in classes. I would suggest that opportunities to enable students to learn through additional work assignments, extra credit, correcting assignments, or doing independent study were good ways to let the student dictate the differentiation. However, I would curtail what was possible at the end of a period to avoid fear motivated surge. It should be learning throughout the school year.
    5) It is important that all students have similar opportunities, but which ones you recommend for specific students might be a way to differentiate.
    6) Sometimes connecting to the material through another life experience might help. Perhaps Geometry through carpentry, algebra through boat racing, or poetry through song writing might be a way to connect.

    Good Luck!
    • May 11 2014: Thank you for your reply! I also am a very big proponent of work ethic, in fact I feel as though I am constantly lecturing my 8th graders on their (lack) of work ethic! Since the year is coming to a close, most of my students have realized they need to do better and for the first time all year I can honestly say that this week I have about 90% of their assignments.
      Also as a new teacher I know I need to improve my classroom management so most of the time I find myself doing most of the work in order to maintain order. I should pull back a bit and allow more peer collaboration. In order for that to be successful I know that I need to create a culture of high expectations that allows them freedom but also has great, very clear expectations.
      I couldn't agree more with the connection to real life experiences, sometimes that is easier said than done but I appreciate your suggestions.

      Thank you again for your encouraging words and advice, I truly appreciate it.
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    May 11 2014: Corita, It always helps when we know where the person asking the question is from. Do you teach in a private or public school ... etc

    If in the USA and a public school ... then in almost all cases this question is becoming moot. The core and stem requirements of the state and federal governments have removed many of your options. Your career and the school / district funding are based on the outcome of the high stakes testing. Your daily activities are given by the textbook writer and coordinated with the test developer to succeed on the test. Additionally the federal educational achievement exam (the national report card) also reflects on you and the school. Like most, the issues have been removed and the test is taught daily for self protection and ensurance of future funding.

    It is rare that anyone ever fails a grade ... homework is a tool to boost grades for those on the line ... it serves little or no purpose.

    Since the work and the test are now set in stone ... perhaps a degree of flipped classroom would provide you with the opportunity to do individual analysis and the time to help those who are in distress. Also the flipped class could allow for groups to debate / discuss which also assists in the better understanding of those who are not as quick to grasp a principal ... and yet does not isolate them or set them apart in any way.

    The new math is a killer ... I am an engineer and could not grasp how to help my grandson with subtraction ... it was once you have this take away that and what is left ... three parts. The new method is twenty three steps. Do not expect mom and pop to help at home.

    Contact and support of parents is very important ... remember many kids are being raised by grandparents now days ... be open to visits and e-mails ... make them a ally.

    Education has been caught up in politics .. until that is resolved issue will remain and grow ... it is no longer about learning.

    I wish you well. Bob
    • May 11 2014: Thank you for your reply. I am an 8th grade math teacher for the NYCDOE and I was lucky enough to have the discretion to manipulate the new curriculum to my needs and I would like to think it worked out well for both my students and me. But I will tell you one thing, I do NOT envy the elementary school teachers! Some of the “new” math makes no sense to me either and believe me, you are not the first very well educated person I have heard that comment from! It is not fair what we are doing to our students and teachers really do have to become more creative in their methods to reach every type of learner. Thank you for your advice, I appreciate it greatly.
  • May 10 2014: Your question is the meat on the bone for any working professional. It is what makes you feel that change is real and that accomplishment is routine and not a one time event. Your question reminded me of when in college I was working for a small Midwest motel chain. We had a contract to provide rooms for shift workers which were guaranteed a room anytime. Often they would get called to duty after only being in their room for a couple of hours. I worked the night desk along an interstate and the town didn't have enough vacant rooms. The motel had 105 rooms and I would make ready each of the 20 rooms on the weekend nights I worked to accommodate additional guests. I was doing 120-130 bookings on a weekend every week during the summer months. I was referring those I turned away to our sister motel 90 miles away and selling them out each weekend.

    I saw a need and fulfilled that need. I met an expectation. I became the difference. I wasn't motivated by profit but by the freedom to make a difference. If you can create the freedom in your students to make a difference they will choose that.

    Good question.
    • May 11 2014: Thank you for your reply an for sharing. Your idea of giving students "freedom" is a way to not only make them feel more comfortable but also motivated. As the school year is coming to a close and my 8th graders suddenly become more concerned with their grades, I see many of them seizing the opportunity to make up work. I didn't really think of it until you said it but this "freedom" to improve their own grades has motivated them. It's too bad they didn't realize this "freedom" sooner.. boy do I have a lot to grade!