A Digital Differentiation Model

This week I am hosting some guest bloggers. This entry is from Danielle Lagnese.

Personalizing learning in my classroom four years ago was challenging. To say the least. Imagine eight red buckets from Dollar Tree filled with binder clipped packets of worksheets. We did the best we could, but humidity curled the papers beyond recognition. Activities were limited to what could fit on a piece of 8X11 white paper. Students were compliant, but the activities were antiquated even if my desire to reach each student where they were was genuine.

In 2015, we moved to having Chromebooks carts in each Social Studies Classroom and using Google Classroom districtwide. My ability to make differentiation manageable, rather than something that would overload me, changed overnight. I was faced with an opportunity to create a system that would reflect the pedagogy I believed in and serve my students without sacrificing my personal style. Creating “learning playlists” have improved ability to differentiate in a digital environment. They’ve given my students choice, voice, an opportunity to reflect on their learning, and an increased growth mindset. They’ve given me a chance to try out new tools, adapt my instruction anytime, and a refuge from red buckets of crumpled worksheets. I’m able to do all of this with Google Forms, Google Sheets, and Google Classroom.

My unit planning starts the creation of a playlist - here’s a PDF of the finish product. I consider which learning activities all students must do within this curriculum. The diversity of my students makes this a small number. Our students’ reading, writing, vocabulary, listening, and technology skills range widely and I want to move all students forward while meeting each exactly where they are. This is not a science and it’s something I hope to improve at every day.

The top part of the Google Sheet contains these required activities. I try to make it as visual as possible and I mix colors and images to help students use the sheet as independently as possible.

In the initial planning phase, I leave a few of these rows blank so that I can use formative assessments to make decision about what activities are necessary for all students as we move through the unit. This should be a living document that I can adjust at any time as I teach real humans whose capacities expand constantly.

The bottom part of the Google Sheet contains individual activities. This is a much larger area of real estate on the sheet, which reflects the percentage of activities are personalized in my 8th grade Social Studies class. This may look different in different subject areas and grade levels.

After I have created categories for the unit, I add individual activities. This can be extensive. One unit can have 15-20 activities in the individual section. The best way to “make it manageable” here is to collaborate with your departments or grade levels. Take advantage of the best resources around you - other educators.

Within each category, there may be different choices - leveled, specific skills, or choices for different interests:

The most important column in the individualized section is the materials section. This is where all the learning lives. Some links prompt students to make copies of activities, or link to directions, flipped videos, Google Forms, or other digital tools. I can pull students to a small group for extra practice at any time and they can track and reflect on that practice in this space.

I leave a spot below this blank canvas for students to write in their goal and the amount of points they’ve earned. I use a formula so the sheet works for kids to automatically track their progress. As we progress through the unit, my kids conference with me constantly. I give them feedback, they use evidence from their work to convince me how many “points” should be earned for each activity.

Goals are set on the first day of the unit using Google Form. Students answer questions like these to evaluate their strengths and calculate a points goal.

The final step is the “assessment conference” I have with students. Students run the conference. Here’s a script for how I model that. They tell me what activities they did, why they chose them, how they used the feedback the got, and why they deserve to have met their goal. If students didn’t meet their goal, we reflect on that together and come up with ways to meet them in the future. Using this method has made personalization manageable for me and I hope that it can help you too!

Danielle Lagnese is a middle school Social Studies teacher in East Windsor, NJ. She has presented at conferences around the state about digital differentiation and using technology to personalize learning. You can follow her @MissLagnese on Twitter.