We’ve all been told that students learn at different rates and enter class with diverse levels of knowledge. Rebecca Alber wrote an article saying that, when she coaches teachers, many ask What does differentiation look like?
Differentiation begins with the analysis of student work.
Differentiation begins with a pre-test. It doesn’t have to be long. Put together two questions from each lesson in a unit.
Here is a partial example of a unit pretest:
After the pre-test, tick off the objectives each student has already mastered. Notice that no child has a full grasp of all objectives. Hence, the “extension” group must be flexible by lesson. (Note: Student names are fabricated).
Reading and Writing
The first piece you need is paper that looks something like this:
Each year I get a file of student work from the previous teacher. I wish I had time to read carefully through each piece. I choose to spend the most time looking at the Diagnostic Reading Inventory (DRA 2) sheets.
The bad news about DRA 2 sheets is that the assessment may be an indication of writing skills as much as (if not more than) reading skills. The good news about DRA 2 sheets is that the assessment may be assessing writing skills. So I use it for both. Here is an example of the summary page:
What can I learn about this student as a reader?
- The child sees the beginning, middle, and end of the story.
- He/she can concisely list the main details of a story.
- He/she identifies character feelings and actions.
- He/she includes more details from the beginning of the story than the end.
- More or less, the writing suggests literal comprehension is at grade level.
I would use other pages to check the student’s reading habits and his/her ability to use specific reading skills. The first couple weeks of school, I would need to have an individual conference with the reader to confirm my DRA-based impressions.
What can I learn about this student as a writer?
- He/she organizes writing in a sequential fashion.
- He/she is able to communicate ideas.
- He/she uses vocabulary acceptable for a fifth grader.
- He/she uses a consistent tense.
- Paragraphing is present, but not indented.
- The student needs lessons on plurals and possessives
- Spelling patterns deserve further investigation.
The folder also has a narrative writing sample. A quick glance confirms or refutes my initial impressions.
Poetry begins this week. We assessed students’ poetry writing by simply saying “Write a poem.” My teaching partner and I will review those to see which students use imagery, which students take the poem through the entire writing process, and more. To assess students’ poetry reading, we had them analyze an Emily Dickenson poem. Again, we will compare to see which students discussed important lines or words, which students examined meanings beyond the literal…
How does pre-assessment lead to differentiated instruction?
Great question – to be answered in a future post.
I wish I could tell you a super-quick way of pre-assessing students. The analysis time is worth it, though. If we want to differentiate instruction, we first need to know which students need which lesson(s).
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