In a previous article, I cataloged anti-patterns of differentiation: common tactics that look like differentiation but are actually quite the opposite. This article is about an additional and very common anti-pattern: choice.
“Choice” is not (necessarily) differentiation. Just because students are doing different things doesn’t mean there’s differentiated instruction.
If my class reads about Saturn and then I let them create either a poem, a presentation, or a skit, there is no differentiated instruction happening. Some students are just making a different product. My advanced group didn’t learn any additional content, they didn’t think at a higher level, and they didn’t access more advanced resources. We only gave them a choice about their final product. That isn’t differentiation.
If I give students the choice to learn about Jupiter, Neptune, or Saturn, I’m still not differentiating.
Differentiation Is About Thinking
When we differentiate, it needs to be about students’ thinking. Are we pushing our advanced students to think at a higher level? This doesn’t happen at the product stage. It’s too late. Differentiation needs to be planned from the beginning when writing a learning objective.
A differentiated lesson objective should thoughtfully adjust:
- students’ thinking skill
- the content they’re learning
- the resources they can draw from
- the product they make
I wrote an article about these four levers to differentiate a task statement if you aren’t familiar with them.
A Differentiated Saturn Task
If most of my class is learning the basic facts about Saturn using our textbook, I’m going to purposefully plan a task to push my higher-ability students. This means adjusting thinking skill, content, and resources before I worry about the product.
- Perhaps they’ll compare and contrast with another ringed planet and then form an opinion about which is most useful to humans (this is content and thinking skill).
- They’ll reference a more advanced book about the planets that I grabbed from the library (that’s a resource).
- Then, I’ll consider their product. Yes, perhaps they’ll have a choice there, but that product choice isn’t where the real differentiation happens.
Without planning for how I’ll push my gifted students’ thinking and content knowledge, choice in their product is mere decoration, not differentiation.
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