Differentiation Challenges

October Update +  Differentiation

Happy mid-October! I am so happy to report that my classes are going well. I feel like the kids, especially the ninth graders, have finally really figured out the structures and routines of class, and the room is beginning to really flow. Many of my students aced their equation-solving test that they took Friday which was wonderful. Not only that, but they were showing their work in the three-part process I taught — solve, explain, and check — even though they weren’t explicitly told to do so. What a win!

I still have a handful of kids in my algebra classes who are struggling. Even though they have made gains, they seem to have serious gaps in their earlier math education that causes them to struggle to keep up with their peers. For example, a few of my kids seem to have never really seen an equation of any kind before my class. Whereas for most ninth graders solving a one-step equation is a review, for some of my kiddos it seemed to be new information for them.

I am now stuck with the age-old dilemma: how do I catch up my kids who are very far behind, without holding back their classmates? Additionally, how do I catch these kids up with simultaneously teaching them grade-level material? If anyone tells you they have a simple response to that query, they are lying to you and they are probably selling something. I have some ideas, and I am curious if anyone else has others. Here goes:

  1. After school targeted extra help sessions
  2. Lunch quick practice sessions (15-20 minute targeted sessions at start of every lunch period)
  3. Weekly pull out groups with lower-level kids while rest of class works independently
  4. Increased commitment to differentiated practice and instruction in class

That last one is trickiest, I think. I have been working on differentiating via leveled worksheets, and letting kids select which practice sheet to start with and work their way up to the middle level or higher level sheet. I have also been building group roles, and committing to twenty or more minutes of group practice most days, so that students can teach each other. Sometimes hearing an explanation from another student really helps some kids to get it. But I am not sure this is enough. I am committed to exploring other practical methods of meaningful differentiation this year.

Yours in math-ed,