Sunday, September 27, 2015

How Differentiating Led to a Revolution

Representing the Townshend Act, with taxes on
everyday goods. 
Differentiation. That word alone is enough to cause eye rolls, groans, and response that start with "Yeah, but..."

Bear with me, and let's take a look at classroom practice in a mixed-ability HS History classroom.

The events leading up to the American Revolution are complex, and, in the eyes of most highschool students, can be pretty soporific. So, it's up to us to be proactive about differentiating.

Tweaking an idea from the NC Civic and Education Consortium (click here to access link), we were able to differentiate in process, product, and access to the content.

Students were each assigned a pre-revolutionary event to research. After researching with their partner, they summarized the key ideas in writing, and rehearsed explanations for presenting the material to the class the following day. They were also asked to create representative props from simple construction paper and tape to use as they acted out the key ideas of their event.

Sounds like a pretty straightforward assignment, right?
Here's how we differentiated it.

  • Students were paired strategically according to strengths. 
  • As students researched, both Mr. P and I answered questions individually to clarify understanding, to engage students in further discussion, and to poke their thinking to extend it. 
  • Synthesizing and summarizing information is tough for anyone. We included sentence starters for those who needed them. For others, we encouraged partners to talk through information that could be included--talking it out with a partner is an extremely useful scaffold for writing. 
  • Students who were ready were asked to extend their summary to consider and verbalize the impact of their event, then to link it within the greater scheme of cause and effect. 
  • Different events could be explained at varied levels of complexity; those who were more proficient were assigned tasks with more details. Although one reason this type of activity worked so well, was that all tasks contributed to the overall main idea of events leading to the Revolution. This ensured a feeling of fairness, which in turn, enhances motivation.
  • Creating representations out of simple construction paper and tape equalized the playing field. Allowing students to do this type of project at home can often be difficult without support or resources---but the biggest bonus of letting them do this in class was to listen to the conversations about what and how to produce items. They were very excited! (Do provide a time limit; parameters can do wonders for creativity sometimes!)
  • Once they were finished, each pair presented their summary, impact, and acted it orally out with their props. Definitely lots of laughter, questioning for clarity and understanding (from the students to their peers!) 
  • Having students present orally upped the ante--both partners had to know what was written as well as understand additional information in preparation for any questions afterward. Bonus for authentic audiences of your teen peers!
  • The flip side of the oral presentations is that the audience was able to listen to others' presentations to glean facts and impacts. This in turn, develops empathy for public speakers, and helps foster yet another angle of classroom community. 

Once they had each presented their event, Mr. P added any additional details. (yeah...I sketched as they talked) :-)

Why it worked:
*The learning goals were clear and concrete
*The task was chunked in to do-able amounts to master, then immediately apply/ use
*Students were paired up to allow for pushback, feedback, and support
*Teachers were available for questioning and clarification at all times
*Time limit helped them determine their pace
*Students were particularly animated by the creativity aspect--they did so well!
*All levels of learners--even the advanced--also needed support
*Allows more time to talk to students, get to know them, and individualize instruction

Ship from England carrying the 5 Intolerable Acts. Nailed it.
What we could do differently next time:
*Increase the task complexity--now that the routine is familiar, we can focus more on how they access the content
*Allow for more student choice in how they could creatively represent their learning
*Increase the complexity and/or number of the goals
*Be more explicit about any cross-
 curricular ties
*Develop more ways for students to own their ideas--perhaps through topic choice, or having time to   explore and express understandings in other ways
A spot on sketch of a colonist learning about the tax on tea.
*Allow more time for students to connect the information themselves--this one was saturated with cause and effect, yet I feel we did a lot of the connecting for them

Overall, I think the students received a memorable introduction to the events leading to the American Revolution. There's always something more we could have done, but this was a pretty straightforward example about how differentiation might look in a history classroom. Notoriously tricky for ensuring access for all learners!

Carol Ann Tomlinson (How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms) says "a differentiated classroom provides different avenues to acquiring content, to processing or making sense of ideas, and to developing products so that each student can learn effectively." That sounds like a lot, and it can be, but once you're in tune with your students, and they know your expectations mean business, it gets progressively easier to  carry out. Seeing the light in your students' eyes will make the extra efforts oh-so-worthwhile.

Here's another great article by John McCarthy on Edutopia--with lots of ideas and links--on differentiation. I guarantee it will give you ideas to use tomorrow in your classroom!

Boston Tea Party--with "tea" to transport, then throw out
of the boat.
Preparing a representation for the Boston Tea Party.
My own edusketch about the events. (Pillars)

1 comment:

  1. We discussed the differentiating issue at Your edusketch is great, by the way.