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Differentiation Done Right

When something wonderful happens, don’t you just want to share it with the world?

I want to tell you an experience I had while volunteering in a classroom this past month. I went in to help with math groups in my son’s third grade cougar classroom with Kim Fitzpatrick at Rock Creek Elementary. I’ve seen some good instruction in my life, but I have to say that I was blown away by the masterful way Kim organized her lesson and taught these students.

There is so much going on in Tahoma’s gifted community, from fantastic teachers to student achievements to learning opportunities for the whole family. We believe that by sharing what we see and learn, everyone benefits.

I saw one of the best applications of differentiation that I’ve ever seen. It’s what we always want in gifted education, but in practice it’s so hard to attain! Kim split the class into assigned groups. She later told me that she’d noticed some of the children were struggling with the multiplication and division concepts she’d taught, and she wanted more focused, small group time with them. Other children were at various levels of mastery of the concept, with some needing practice, and some ready to move on. She’d very purposefully grouped the children with others who were at their same level, and she had different interesting math activities for them at stations around the room.

Kim had me work with the group who was the most advanced, as she was giving them a new challenge with the math skill, and she wanted them to have constant adult support. The children were excited to see the more complex math scenario. They even asked insightful questions which took the concept deeper! Kim took the time to check on every group, and then she called everyone back together and had them share what went well.

The last thing that impressed me was that after the students left for recess, Kim talked to me for a few minutes about how things went in my group. She mentioned that differentiating in this way felt like a risk–how would the children handle the different structure and the more challenging task without the normal amount of instruction beforehand? She asked how I thought the individual children in my group did with such a challenge, and she asked my impressions of their readiness for it. (They all did great!) I have never felt more appreciated and valued as a volunteer.

I could tell that Kim’s willingness to use this teaching method was a huge success for her students. This was truly a model lesson of how to differentiate so that all learners, regardless of their level of understanding, were able to make progress that day. I just want to let you all know that I give two thumbs way, way up for Ms. Fitz!