Sunday, August 11, 2013

Reach More Students Through Differentiation

When a counselor tries to teach something to the entire class at the same time, “chances are, one-third of the kids already know it; one-third will get it; and the remaining third won‟t. So two-thirds of the children are wasting their time (Lillian Katz).”

Differentiation is making sure the right students get the right learning tasks. This is not easy but the best place to start is with a pre-assessment of some kind. That way the counselor knows what students know or don't know about a subject before teaching begins. Another way is to survey students to determine their interests, learning styles, and preferences. This information helps counselors plan more engaging lessons. Many differentiated lessons involve some kind of student choice. This encourages student engagement and allows students to own their own learning.

Differentiation of instruction can take many different forms. Counselors can differentiate their lessons through the content or curriculum. They can differentiate the process used to access content and the depth of the content. Counselors can differentiate the product or method of showing understanding of the content. Today counselors differentiate their lessons through the use of technology. Regardless of the method, the learning outcomes and content standards are the same for all students.

It is very challenging to meet the needs of diverse learners with the case loads typical in elementary counselors. It is important to communicate with classroom teachers about the needs of students in each class.  The teachers know who needs what type of support or more of a challenge.  

A modification I try to make in most of my lesson plans is to use a variety of types of grouping.  I generally introduce the lesson to the whole class, I try to build in one quick partner activity and if time allows a small group activity. When you are in front of the whole class you can differentiate by asking different students different types of questions.  You can purposely pair up students to meet diverse needs. The possibilities include pairing a strong and weak student, or group high students together and pair up the students who need more and attend to them during the activity while the rest work independently.  I group students in small groups in a variety of ways depending on the content and task.  Finally individual student work products can be modified based on what individual learners may need.

I don't believe any counselor wants to waste the time of 2/3 of the children they are teaching.  Try to differentiate some aspect of all classroom lessons but be realistic.  If you have the luxury of a lighter case load and the flexibility to teach lots of classroom lessons it will be easier.  If you have a high case load, build plans for differentiation right into your lesson plans and don't forget to ask teachers about the learning needs of the students.

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