Thursday, September 13, 2012

Clock Partners

Have you heard of clock partners?  It's a great management strategy to partner your students up quickly.  However, I modify it to help with differentiation in the classroom.

Here's how it works:
Students take their page, walk around the room and find 12 different partners.  They each write their partner's name on the same line.  If I'm partnering with you at 12, I write my name on your page at 12, and you write your name on my page at 12.  You can help control this and prevent chaos in your room by only allowing students to get 1 partner at a time.  Throughout the year, as you want students to partner up, you announce that they need to find their "4 o'clock partner" for example.  This keeps feelings from being hurt, time being wasted, and allows you to change up who students are working with.

(Click on the picture to download)

How I modify it:
I give students some of their matches.  For example, I might make the 3 o'clock partner a student who reads at the same or similar level.  Then, I might make the 9 o'clock partner a student who reads at a higher or lower level.  Then, when I want students to partner up to read, I can quickly partner them up.  I recommend writing these partnerships on the clocks before you distribute them and keeping a master list for yourself.  You can even use it to make a quick reading group if you use more than one time.  For example, you could make the 3 and 4 similar reading levels.  If you use those same three students as 3 and 4 for each other, you can ask them to meet with both partners and you've made a small group of 3.  Here's a sample way I've arranged the partners.

12- similar math ability
1- similar reading ability
2- similar reading ability
3- similar reading ability
4- free choice
5- free choice
6- different math ability
7- free choice
8- different reading ability
9- different reading ability
10- free choice
11- free choice

Students still have some choices in who their partners are for times when you don't need the partners to be a specific ability level.  For reading, I include the same skill on more than one time so students aren't matched with the same person too often.

After you do your beginning of the year assessment, you can match students based on abilities and allow them to fill in the extra slots with their choice of partners.  I'd change things up at least one more time throughout the year just to keep things fresh.  You can download a copy of the form by clicking the picture above.

Are there other ways that using clock partners can help you differentiate in the classroom?

Sunday, September 2, 2012


In the last post Christi talked about the difference between fair and equal.  With the start of the Paralympics in London there are some excellent examples of how the Olympic committee have worked to make the different events fair.  Here is what the organization says:

"Classification - Fair and equal competition
To ensure competition is fair and equal, all Paralympic sports have a system in place which ensures that winning is determined by skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental focus, the same factors that account for success in sport for able bodied athletes.
This process is called classification and its purpose is to minimise the impact of impairments on the activity (sport discipline). Having the impairment thus is not sufficient. The impact on the sport must be proved, and each in Paralympic sport, the criteria of grouping athletes by the degree of activity limitation resulting from the impairment are named ‘Sport Classes’. Through classification, it is determined which athletes are eligible to compete in a sport and how athletes are grouped together for competition. This, to a certain extent, is similar to grouping athletes by age, gender or weight.

Classification is sport-specific because an impairment affects the ability to perform in different sports to a different extent. As a consequence, an athlete may meet the criteria in one sport, but may not meet the criteria in another sport"

You can find the full article here on the Paralympic website.

Take a look at this video for the women's 100 m backstroke.  Notice the starting line.  Were the athletes all equal in how they were lined up? No.  But was it fair?  Yes.  Have your students guess who the winner will be.  Were they right? 

There are a lot of wonderful videos on the website with great examples of how the different events are differentiated to meet the needs of the athletes.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Helping Students Understand Differentiation

We're only a week into our school year, but I'm already starting to hear some of my third graders struggle with understanding the fairness of differentiation. It's difficult for them to understand why everyone isn't learning in exactly the same way.

For example, I don't have enough whisper phones for the entire class so some students don't understand why the same students get to use them most of the time. Don't you think it says something great about what we're doing as teachers when the tools and strategies we're using to differentiate seem "cool" to all of our students instead of making them stand out in a negative way? Still, I have to work to make everyone understand differentiation without anyone feeling jealous or left out. I use the concept of "fair is not always equal" to show that we all have different needs.
I like to use a few simple examples to help clarify what I mean. Here are a few of my favorites.
  • If one student needs glasses, does that mean all students should wear them? Of course not. 
  • If one student needs crutches, do we all have to use them? No way.
  • We're all the same age, but do we all wear the same size shoe? No, because we all grow at different rates. We all learn at different rates too.
With a little discussion, students quickly understand that differentiation is okay and they aren't so jealous about it.
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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Organizing Learning Centers for Differentiation

The use of learning centers is a popular method of previewing, reviewing, and remediating concepts.  This blog post will focus on strategies for differentiating learning centers by individual student need as well as by learning style.

Organize by Representation

This center provides an opportunity to show multiple representations about the meaning of a fractional part.  A student can investigate fractions with fraction blocks, a pizza puzzle, or with measuring cups.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) urges the use of multiple representations when presenting concepts.  In a nutshell, they encourage students to learn about the same concept in a variety of ways.  This technique facilitates deeper understanding.

For example, if a student is learning about fractions, using a fraction puzzle, fraction blocks, or even measuring cups can deepen the understanding of a part of a whole.  This technique can be incorporated into learning centers.  Provide each student with a menu of activities to complete at the center using the various representations.

Organize by Learning Style

In this learning center, a student can choose to learn about multiplication through the use of an abacus, blocks, or flashcards.

Students learn in a variety of ways.  While one would benefit from hearing a lecture, another student may gain understanding through hands-on strategies.  By placing materials that tap into different learning styles into the same center, students are able to determine how they learn best.

Create Personalized Learning Centers

The student that will utilize this learning center will use the Common Core task card based on her own individual needs.  Then, she will connect what was learned about the Dust Bowl from her Social Studies  textbook with the historical fiction book Out of the Dust.  Her ideas will be written on the mini Etch-A-Sketch
The previous ideas are different strategies that could used to differentiate instruction when the same learning center is used with a variety of students.  Create personalized learning centers that are developed based on individual student needs.  During center time, give each student their own personalized learning center bin.  Once they master concepts, replace and rotate items in their learning centers.

In short, learning centers are a fantastic and enjoyable method of presenting information.  By developing centers that are in a variety of formats, educators can have an additional tool for differentiating instruction.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Scheduling Charts

Marsha shared some GREAT tips on flexible grouping with you a few days ago.  I love reading her posts and seeing what she's doing in her classroom.

A while back, I posted a scheduling chart that I used to help some of my teachers schedule their flexible reading groups while the other students were doing centers.  I thought it would be the perfect complimentary post to what Marsha just shared with you!  I called it Guided Reading Scheduling, but you could really use it to schedule any of your groups!  Click on any of the pictures below to head to my TpT store and download the charts for free!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Flexing your differentiating muscles!

What's one way you can tell if you're a STRONG differentiating instructor? FLEXible groupings!

Often there is a misunderstanding among some teachers (no one here of course) that if they have students in groups, they are utilizing flexible groupings.  This is not necessarily accurate.  In fact, there are many teachers (none here of course) that are under the impression that the goal of flexible groupings is to make instruction easier for teachers by grouping students strictly by ability.

The GOAL of flexible groupings is to provide students with MANY different kinds of opportunities to interact with other students in meaningful ways while they all are working towards meeting their learning goals.

In all honesty, flexible groupings are probably one of the easiest ways to begin initiating differentiated instructional strategies in a classroom.  The question is, what does it look like, how do you organize it and how does it work.  I don't think it looks the same in any two classrooms, and it doesn't look the same in lower elementary as it does in upper elementary or even high school and college (yes, we should be using flexible groupings even in those upper levels).

As with anything, it has to work for you.

In my class, there are pocket charts (I love, love, love those little $1.00 Target pocket charts), laminated magnetic cards and even MORE pocket charts to indicate different cooperative groupings. 

 I divide my literacy groups by learning style and readiness by using animal groups.  Because they are on magnets, I can move students around from group to group as often as I want depending the skills we will be addressing or as a result of ongoing assessing.  My students are very good about looking up at the board to see what animal they are on any given day because it changes quite often.

Literacy Groups Based on Readiness, Learning Styles and Cooperation

Math Stations Grouped by Readiness and Learning Styles

Math Stations are separated by color and groups of four.  Within those groups they work as pairs.  I have the WORLDS SMALLEST kindergarten classroom.  It was clear 12 math stations for 24 students just wasn't going to happen for me, so this system works out well.  These groups change about every three weeks and they are based on readiness and learning styles as well.  The cards are coded by color to indicate different activities that students utilize from their station based on their readiness.  So orange students may have different activities than a green student and so on.  These cards are laminated to that I can move students around and change their color based on pre and on-going assessment of skills.

Calendar Partners Grouped By Interest and Cooperative Learning Styles

Calendar partners are changed every month.  We utilize calendar books and I found that by having students work in partners, they are able to help each other out rather than walking around myself and checking every child for understanding.  Partners are determined based on interest and cooperative learning styles.

Learning Center Groups Based on Multiple Intelligences and Learning Styles

Learning Centers have students in groups of three.  These groups change about every two weeks and are based on learning styles and multiple intelligences.  Although about half of these stations are tiered, the groupings for these stations are NOT based on readiness.

The goal of flexible grouping is to provide lots of different kinds of opportunities for students to work in meaningful ways with other students who are not necessarily like themselves. I, myself, can't imagine my groupings working any other way, but I would love to hear what other teachers do.  I'm always looking for new ways to organize and streamline my groups. Drop me a comment to let me know if you're 'flexible.'

Monday, July 23, 2012

Differentiating Word Work

In my special education class I have 7 children with very differing needs and abilities.  I have several children who only have articulation as their difficulty to several children who don't talk at all and have little to no fine motor skills.  I thought I would show you one of my word family lessons as an example of how I differentiated the lesson to meet all their needs.  Remember fair is not equal.  The children did not have to do the work in the same way.

A Step-by-Step is a programmable recording device.  I can program several messages on it and when the top is pushed, it repeats the first message.  Push the top again and it repeats the second message, and so on.

I presented the work on our Smart Board so that everyone could see what we were doing.  We did the work as a group and I wrote our answers on the board.  For my students that needed to copy the work, they could easily see the board.  For my students that could read the work and do it independently, I let them work ahead and do the sheet on their own.  When we got to that question with the group, they came back to the section and checked their answer with everyone.

We practiced finding certain words when I called them out.  Some children used the slide chart.  It had all the words on it.  And some children used flash cards.  We picked out only 2 words for them, held them up in front of them and asked them to find a word.

At the end of the lesson we had a "spelling" test.  I said a word out loud and for my children that could print, they printed the word independently.  For my non-printing, non-verbal student, I had a sheet made up with the word family already on it.  He was then given a choice of two letters.  When I called out a word, he would eye-gaze to the letter he wanted and an assistant would help him use the stamps to spell his word.

I hope I've given you some ideas on how you can differentiate our lessons for children with various abilities.