Differentiation in the Classroom: English/Language Arts


     Q: What is “differentiation”?

    A: In the context of education, differentiation is defined as a teacher's reacting responsively to a learner's needs. A teacher who is differentiating understands a student's needs to express humor, or work with a group, or have additional teaching on a particular skill, or delve more deeply into a particular topic, or have guided help with a reading passage—and the teacher responds actively and positively to that need. Differentiation is simply attending to the learning needs of a particular student or small group of students rather than the more typical pattern of teaching the class as though all individuals in it were basically alike.

    Q: What will differentiation look like in Sakai classrooms?

    A: How it looks depends upon the subject, activity and/or lesson, and the student. Students in each classroom will take part in whole group instruction, small group processes and, at times, individual work. Your child’s teacher will regularly assess student understanding and needs, utilizing formal and informal assessments via written work and personal interactions throughout the lesson. Differentiation can take the form of re-teaching and remediation, adjusting benchmarks to scaffold to the grade level standards (for struggling students), or extending and elevating expectations, concepts and content for those students demonstrating a need to be challenged beyond grade level standards.

    Q: How will Sakai teachers address the needs of the Highly Capable and High Performing students?

    A: Again, frequent assessment will be utilized to ensure that students are not held to a standard that is redundant or does not provide adequate challenge for them.

    When seeking to adjust for diverse learners, differentiation is considered in five areas: acceleration, depth, complexity, challenge, and creativity.*

    ·         Acceleration means looking beyond the grade level standards to teach toward higher grade level expectations. For example, in language arts this might appear in the form of more sophisticated figurative language, the application and identification of its etymology (rather than mere identifying and explaining). There are areas in which acceleration alone may not be appropriate (for instance, seeking a novel at a 9th grade reading level when, in fact, the content may not be suitable for a 5th grader)  

    ·         Depth simply means “digging” deeper into the content as students show they are capable of doing. While a student at grade level might be able to identify character motivation, for example, a student at a higher level may be ready to go further, to show how the character’s actions correspond to the novel’s theme, or relate the character’s behavior to the setting in the story (ie: How setting affects or actually drives a character’s actions).  This is an example of utilizing Bloom’s Taxonomy, in which more complex thinking is sought. We move students from simple knowledge and comprehension of content to application, analysis and synthesis.

    ·         Complexity is that piece of Bloom’s Taxonomy that requires the student to synthesize and analyze the work. For instance, once a student identifies and articulates the theme of a given novel, she might begin to select other novels with a similar theme, and draw comparisons based upon theme (rather than more concrete factors such as “character” or “setting”).

    ·         Challenge relates specifically to the selection of appropriate, challenging material in the classroom. Again, while it may not be appropriate to seek literature written for young adults, when a series of novels is presented, the highly capable student will be expected to select one that provides an adequate challenge to his or her abilities.

    ·         Creativity is the area in which a student is encouraged to discover and show his or her learning. This might include the option of presenting learning using multimedia, art, or alternatives to essay writing such as poetry, play format, a newsletter.

    In addition to providing these kinds of differentiation strategies in the classroom, students will have the opportunity to work in small group, among other students with “like” goals and objectives. Adult facilitators (volunteers, our building specialists) will be available at times to provide both enrichment and reinforcement in each of these areas to ensure that all students progress through benchmarks appropriate for them.

    Q: What if I still have questions about the program my child is receiving?

    A: The first step should be to reach out to the specific teacher. The building Differentiation / Highly Capable Specialist is an excellent resource as well. Further questions can, of course, be directed to the building administration.

    * From the Center for Gifted Education; The College of William and Mary