In a few presentations to teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District, one of my charges was to include some ideas about differentiation. The following are some ideas on differentiation (both in content and process) that I shared.

ASSESSMENT (before):

Write a letter to your parents. Include interests, talents, learning preferences, long-range plans or desires, and goals in the class.

Topics for class meetings with PRIMARY students:
–Why are we here?
–What are we trying to do?
–What does it mean to do something well?
–How will we know if we are doing it well together?

Topics for class meetings with OLDER students:
–What does it mean to do quality work?
–How will you know that a quality level has been attained?
–How will I, the teacher, know that a quality level has been attained?
–What do you need to do to attain a quality level?
–What can I, the teacher, do to help you attain the level?
–How will a third party know that a quality level was attained?

Selected ideas to develop the criteria and evaluate against it:
–Give examples of good and bad.
–What makes an essay persuasive?
–What makes a story interesting to read?
–What makes a math solution elegant?

Activities to obtain curiosity and interest (Japanese approach): Pose a question, explore an event, start a story, solve a problem. WHEN STUDENTS "GRAPPLE" WITH A SITUATION AT THE VERY OUTSET OF A LESSON, MOTIVATION IS ENHANCED.

APPLY a concept:
Applies, changes, computes, constructs, demonstrates, manipulates, modifies, operates, predicts, prepares, produces, relates, shows, solves, uses.

ANALYZE a situation:
Analyzes, breaks down, compares, contrasts, diagrams, deconstructs, differentiates, distinguishes, identifies, illustrates, infers, outlines, relates, selects, separates.

SYNTHESIZE by putting together parts to create something:
Categorizes, combines, compiles, composes, creates, devises, designs, explains, generates, modifies, organizes, rearranges, reconstructs, relates, reorganizes, revises, summarizes, tells.

EVALUATE ideas or situations by making judgments about them:
Evaluates, appraises, compares, concludes, contrasts, criticizes, critiques, defends, explains, interprets, justifies, relates, summarizes, supports.

EVALUATION (after) – Evaluate quality of one's own work and progress toward goals:
–What worked?
–What didn't?
–What am I proud of?


EXAMPLE: high school biology:

Teacher reflection:
1. What should students KNOW as a result of what we do?
Names of the cell parts, their functions, and how the cell actually works.

2. What should students UNDERSTAND?
The cell is not just a bunch of isolated things; it has interrelated parts where everything affects everything else.

3. What should students be able TO DO?
Analyze these interrelationships in a way that makes them clear to their PEERS—not the teacher.

Here's how the teacher approaches the students:
"I have 150 students, and I don't know you very well, but I know that you learn in different ways. And I also know that you know more about yourselves and how you learn better than I do. So although I don't know how you learn best, I have a hunch that YOU know how YOU learn best."

The assignment is explained:
"Design a graphic organizer and label the parts with directional markers to be sure someone who is clueless understands your work."


ANALOGY: Relate the working of a cell to human interactions.
–Family – Near relatives and far relatives – Is there someone whose role it is to protect the family (cell)?
–Orchestra – Leader and people with different parts to play
–Basketball team – . . . .
Find an analogy and make it visible to an audience of peers so they'll understand how a cell works. Emphasize both the individual parts and the relationships.

Use stuff in the room to make cells.

Tell a story as though the cell is the story. Who is the protagonist? Who is the antagonist? Where is the rising action? Where is the falling action? What's trying to damage the cell?

If you don't like any of these and have a different or better idea for your learning, come and talk with me.


Students work in groups of three—two (2) times.
1st time: Share with others who used the same approach.
Result: Reinforce and refine understanding

2nd time: Share with people who did different things.
Result: Further reflection and extended understanding