## Differentiation Strategies: Readiness-Based Differentiation

It's not possible to over-state the fact that Pre-Testing must occur before you can begin to differentiate based on readiness, so please take time to understand pre-testing before you begin to implement readiness-based differentiation. I like the term "readiness-based," because it avoids blanket labels involving ability and potential, and it acknowledges the fact that students are not marching in perfect horizontal alignment toward a finite level of academic achievement.

You're using interest-based differentiation and giving students choices in different content areas within projects and assignments. Now you want to implement readiness-based differentiation, because some students are academically ready for more advanced work, while others need more support to attain mastery of target learning objectives.

You have clarified your target learning goals for the unit or week, and constructed a pre-test to find out which of your students have already mastered particular objectives. You're planning your differentiated instruction based on the results of your pre-testing, and understand that students will move to different groups, depending on the subject area, the specific objectives, and that student's current level of understanding.

What will readiness-based instruction look like in your classroom? (You might also be interested in what differentiation should not look like in your classroom.)

You're using interest-based differentiation and giving students choices in different content areas within projects and assignments. Now you want to implement readiness-based differentiation, because some students are academically ready for more advanced work, while others need more support to attain mastery of target learning objectives.

You have clarified your target learning goals for the unit or week, and constructed a pre-test to find out which of your students have already mastered particular objectives. You're planning your differentiated instruction based on the results of your pre-testing, and understand that students will move to different groups, depending on the subject area, the specific objectives, and that student's current level of understanding.

What will readiness-based instruction look like in your classroom? (You might also be interested in what differentiation should not look like in your classroom.)

## Tiered Instruction

Tiered Instruction means that students are working on different assignments or given different problems to solve, but all of the assignments address the same general concept or skill. Assignments for the more advanced tier might be more complex or involve more depth or involve additional skills or concepts. Assignments for students who need more support will provide explicit practice with the target objective.

Before teachers can design tiered assignments, pre-testing is crucial. First, pre-testing tells the teacher which students have already mastered the objective, which ones have a basic understanding, and which students need considerable support with the learning objective. Second, pre-testing should reveal misconceptions or gaps that students may have with regard to the target skill or concept, and the tiered assignments can give students practice to correct those misconceptions and fill in those gaps.

Before teachers can design tiered assignments, pre-testing is crucial. First, pre-testing tells the teacher which students have already mastered the objective, which ones have a basic understanding, and which students need considerable support with the learning objective. Second, pre-testing should reveal misconceptions or gaps that students may have with regard to the target skill or concept, and the tiered assignments can give students practice to correct those misconceptions and fill in those gaps.

## Tips for Tiering

- Assign Similar-Looking Assignments at First

- Encourage Student Independence

*Make your verbal directions clear, but don't make a habit of repeating them over and over--students learn not to listen.

*Provide clearly-written instructions, and encourage students to refer to them.

*When students ask a question you have just answered in your whole-group instructions, turn the question back, asking "what do you think you should do in that situation?"

*Get students in the habit of cleaning up after themselves and managing their own supplies, rather than micro-managing these systems.

- Reduce teacher talking time

**Start with the grade-level plan, and modify from there**

Think about how you can challenge advanced learners by making their task more sophisticated, without adding more of the same kinds of work. What real-world uses exist for this concept? How could this task challenge students in an authentic (but practical and safe) way?

## Examples of Tiered Assignments

**Example 1**

**Math: Elapsed Time**

Target Objective: Students will calculate elapsed time to solve word problems.

Tiered Activities: You pre-test students to check their mastery of the target objective, and form

learning groups based on the pre-test data.

Each group is given a set of six word problems. Two of the problems on each version

ask students to give the answer in hours and in equivalent minutes.

In this example, all students work independently to solve their problems, then meet

with a partner who completed the same version to discuss their solutions.

The different versions could be presented to students on the computer, or

designated with Form X, Form Y, and Form Z on paper-based versions.

One group - calculate elapsed time at hour and half-hour intervals

One group - calculate elapsed time from 5-minute intervals;

One group - calculate elapsed time over the course of several days;

(for example, 12:40 a.m. Saturday to 6:30 a.m. Monday)

calculate elapsed time from 1-minute intervals

(for example, 10:23 a.m. to 5:57 p.m.)

During the next activity, the group that solved problems at hour/half hour intervals might use the same form that the 5-minute interval group used in this lesson, depending on their mastery of this task.

It doesn't matter if there are 18 students completing the middle tiered activity, 4 students completing the advanced tier activity, and 6 students completing the activity with supports. There is no reason for the groups to have equal sizes; if you want them to solve the problems together in small groups, there could easily be three different groups discussing the same set of middle-tier problems.

**Example 2: Media Studies: Determining Website Credibility**

Target Objective: Students will evaluate websites to determine the credibility of their information as a

reference for academic research

Tiered Activities: You pre-test by collecting short written answers to the question "How can you tell if

you can trust the information on a website?" You determine which students complete

each task based on their responses to this question.

Each student receives a page of written directions and questions to complete the task.

Students could work individually or in pairs (with a peer who has the same version).

One group - examines one assigned website and answers specific questions about

different aspects of the site and its credibility (each student in this group

could evaluate a different site about the same topic, then meet to compare

information)

One group - examines two assigned similar websites and answers some specific

questions about each; writes a paragraph explaining which site is more

credible, and why

One group - is given a list of links to a variety of websites on the same topic, and

asked to create a rating scale demonstrating what makes a website

gain or lose credibility

The last group's task requires students to have a reasonable understanding about aspects of credibility, and it has less structure than the other tasks, which have questions to guide students toward things like potential bias (including commercial motives), qualifications, consistency, how recently the site has been updated, and others. Although the degree of structure varies between tasks, students in all three groups are fully addressing the target objective.

## Curriculum Compacting

Sometimes teachers pre-test their students and find that one or more students have completely mastered the learning objectives. In this case, tiered assignments may not be useful, because the students do not need additional practice--what they need is access to new material.

Curriculum Compacting replaces regular grade-level instruction with different, meaningful instruction that is challenging to the student. The replacement material may come from the same subject area as the material that has been mastered, but that may not always be the case.

With Curriculum Compacting, the pre-test serves as proof that the student has mastered the grade-level objectives. Teachers need to find a reasonable comfort level with what pre-test scores are sufficient to indicate mastery. 85% may be sufficient for some, while 95% may be the threshold for others. Depending on the target objectives, the pre-test design, and the individual student, a three-minute conversation may be the only instruction a student needs to clarify misunderstandings or fill in any gaps in conceptual awareness, allowing the student to compact out of the regular instruction.

Typically, the teacher and student design a contract stating explicitly what the student will do in place of the regular material, with deadlines for steps along the way, and a learning plan in the event that the student does not meet the deadlines. Parents may also be notified when students compact out of grade-level instruction.

Curriculum Compacting replaces regular grade-level instruction with different, meaningful instruction that is challenging to the student. The replacement material may come from the same subject area as the material that has been mastered, but that may not always be the case.

With Curriculum Compacting, the pre-test serves as proof that the student has mastered the grade-level objectives. Teachers need to find a reasonable comfort level with what pre-test scores are sufficient to indicate mastery. 85% may be sufficient for some, while 95% may be the threshold for others. Depending on the target objectives, the pre-test design, and the individual student, a three-minute conversation may be the only instruction a student needs to clarify misunderstandings or fill in any gaps in conceptual awareness, allowing the student to compact out of the regular instruction.

Typically, the teacher and student design a contract stating explicitly what the student will do in place of the regular material, with deadlines for steps along the way, and a learning plan in the event that the student does not meet the deadlines. Parents may also be notified when students compact out of grade-level instruction.

## Examples of Curriculum Compacting

**Example 1 Social Studies: Community Services**

Your second grade class is studying a unit about different kinds of services in neighborhoods and communities. After pre-testing, it's clear that three of your students have extremely solid knowledge about the functions and types of services, including the fact that a mayor is an elected official in a town, and that taxes pay the salaries of teachers, fire fighters, and police officers.

Instead of working with the rest of the class to complete activities to learn about what a bank does, what different jobs exist in a hospital, and so on, you work with those three students to set up a contract for a replacement activity.

- One student might write and refine interview questions, and conduct an interview with a community member about the kind of training and skills that are necessary to do a particular job (like a judge or physician).

- One student might conduct research and develop a ranking system for community services, and put 25 different items on the scale, explaining why some services are more essential, in her opinion, than others.

- The third student might choose to do either of the above options, or design an original alternative.

The replacement activities are related to the unit the other students are studying, but they are not strictly tied to the target learning objectives, since these students have demonstrated their mastery of those objectives on the pre-test.

Although second graders may be more dependent on the teacher than older students, curriculum compacting is certainly realistic for them. It helps to develop a classroom culture that allows students to be comfortable working on different things at the same time, because then different assignments and tasks are not distracting.

**Example 2: Reading - Literature Study**

Your seventh graders will be reading, discussing, and writing about The Giver. You have six students who have already read the book. After an informal discussion with them, you determine that four of them have a solid understanding about the major themes and issues in the book. Three of these students are interested in reading the book again and participating in class activities, but one student would prefer to read something new.

You work with the student to select a replacement novel, and the student completes journal entries and writing assignments about it, instead of the activities the rest of the class is doing with

*The Giver*. If you have another student in a different class who is interested in the same book, you might arrange for them to change class periods for the course of the unit so they can discuss the replacement book together, or they might come to your room during lunch for book discussions with you twice a week. You might also be able to find an adult volunteer or mentor who has read the replacement book, who would be willing to discuss the book with the student during regular class time. This person would need to have some instructional experience (librarian, retired teacher, well-read stay-at-home parent) and be a good fit for the student for this to work.

Curriculum Compacting opens many opportunities for students to meet more academic challenges and to extract more value from their learning time. It does take additional work on the part of the teacher to facilitate, because the teacher must work with the student to draw up a reasonable contract, and make time for regular check-ins and support for that student's project in addition to facilitating regular class instruction. However, this is an opportunity for teachers to make an important difference in the life of a child - an opportunity to demonstrate that their education and growth still matters, even if they have already met test requirements. This is an opportunity to model appreciation for individuality, to support curiosity, and, conceivably, real-world productivity. It's not an opportunity we can afford to miss.