Differentiation is tricky. It often seems unsatisfactory and time-consuming. Is it worth it? How to make it really efficient? How do to it practically? Here are a few ideas that I’ve tested for you since the first day of school this year.
Why oh why should we do it?
There’s no arguing why we need to do it. It’s our job to make our students progress. That said, making an adapted version of each lesson every single day can seem impossible. But as Mandela said, it always seems impossible until it’s done. So this year, one of my main objectives is to think ahead and differentiate to make my lessons useful for my dyslexic students, my autistic ones, my English-speaking or non-readers ones. And that is a challenge!
The problem with 6e
My Spelling Bee Competition unit is a success! It’s been one since its creation back in 2013! And I started it in my REP school. The first striking thing is that back in 2013 our students in 6e would arrive with about the same level, quite low, with only a few words that they were able to say and not write – basically. In 2018, five years later, heterogeneity is already visible on the first day in 6e. Some can WRITE proper sentences and can have a short conversation, some barely can SAY their name and age. And differentiation is the only way to build a lesson with them! Because, let’s face it:
- our slow achieving students feel really lost and tend to give up really quickly, even before the end of the first month in English
- our fast finishers are really demanding harder activities to challenge them
- our dyslexic and dyspraxic students have great skills in phonology and great troubles with writing
And we must combine all this in a cultural task-based unit 😀 #givemearope
An adapted Spelling Bee
My main objectives are:
- revising the alphabet and getting to know basic English sounds
- revising key vocabulary (numbers, colours, dates)
- using authentic documents to develop methods (mainly in listening comprehension this time)
I’ve differentiated every activity through the unit:
- some students watched the video and colored the letters without my help and got it immediately –> I checked with an interactive activity
- some students had to revise the alphabet before so we sang the Ray Charles version and we wrote it using key sounds
- while watching the trailer of Akeelah and the bee or the video with the contestants, some students could already reuse structures seen in the previous unit (« there are students, there is a microphone »), some couldn’t. I paused the video and a student would come and point to an important element, another one would name it, and a third one would make a sentence : this is a microphone.
- when revising for their final task, they discovered they could choose their challenge: they chose between two word lists (basics and spelling bee) so even the final task is differentiated! Within the list they can even choose the sub-level they want to be questioned on!
Was it more time-consuming?
Apart from thinking ahead and imagining basically 3 ways to achieve each goal in a lesson, I must admit it didn’t increase my prep’ time. Working with groups has helped a lot, because this time I change groups according to the objective:
- they need to create something together –> they get to choose who they work with
- they need to understand something –> I take a slow group with me, let two quick groups work together, and have 2-3 middle groups with an easy task.
- they must train (on grammar or vocabulary) –> I do exactly as above! and it looks like autonomous workshops they’d do when in elementary school.
A differentiated final task
Tomorrow is the final step of our Spelling Bee Competition so I prepared my word labels with two levels and 3 sub-levels for each. It seems difficult, it’s not!