Teachers are faced with the challenge of increased expectations of rigor while meeting the diverse needs of their students. Teachers can engage their learners to access the same content by matching their needs. Differentiation is a teacher’s response to a learner’s needs. Differentiation is employed during Tier One, general education instruction of the Response to Intervention (RtI) Framework. The purpose is to allow all students to be successful in grade level curriculum and to allow students to progress at their own level. Flexibility is essential to differentiation. A teacher crafts effective instruction based on assessment of learner needs.
Teachers facilitate learning and build effective curriculum and involved students in decision-making to enable them to gain independence and ownership of their learning. Teachers differentiate content, process, and product according to student’s readiness, interests, and learning profiles.
Content consists of facts, concepts, generalizations or principles, attitudes, skills related to the subject, and materials. A teacher can differentiate content by:
Process is how the learner makes sense of, understands, and owns the content. A teacher can differentiate process by:
Products are items students use to demonstrate what they have learned, understood, and are able to do as after a unit or successive lessons. A teacher can differentiate products by:
Multisensory Approach. When creating and choosing resources and tools for your students, take into consideration the learning styles of your students - visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic. Graphic organizers and picture cards support the visual learners. Manipulatives can be used for tactile learners. Incorporating movement, like Total Physical Response, which pairs movements and gestures with words and expressions, can be used for kinesthetic learners.
Feedback. A teacher’s feedback is critical to helping students move forward in their understanding. Feedback needs to be given while students are still thinking about the work and when they can still do something about it. The information provided to a student should be timely, focused, clear, and constructive. Praise is not feedback. Rather it is a set of concrete next steps in understanding how to fix mistakes and clarify misconceptions that students are ready to learn.
Flexible Grouping. Students can work in flexible groups - grouped by similar or mixed readiness, common interests, similar learning styles, or random arrangements. Teachers can build a community of learners that support one another in the learning process. Group students based on student’s learning goals rather than labels.
Open-Ending Questions. Open-ended questions allow students of varying levels and abilities to offer different perspectives. Students also learn to value listening to understand another person’s ideas while also learning to respectfully agree and disagree with one another.
Tiered Assignments. Designing assignments that vary in complexity support the students’ readiness levels based on their learning targets. Students can reach the same goals while taking into consideration students’ individual needs.
Learning Centers. Students can explore concepts or have the opportunity for independent practice at stations. Centers can use a variety of materials with different levels of complexity. The same topic can be presented in different ways to engage all learning modalities.
Choice Activities and Assessments. Learning based on student interest or learning styles can foster a strong sense of motivation for students. Students choose how to access the content as well as the mode of assessment to showcase their understanding of concepts. Activities can be completed in learning centers, small groups, or independently.
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The playground is a natural setting for children to develop skills needed to engage in social interaction. It’s one of the first places children learn to make friends and play freely with other children. Undoubtedly, a conflict will make an appearance in these interactions; even between the best of friends. It can take on various forms — misunderstandings or mixed signals, arguments over rules, physical and verbal aggression, isolation, or targeted harassment disguised as play to name a few. Schools and attending adults have forever been frustrated by this because they feel too much time is spent putting out fires or solving problems for students. Teachers often feel the effects back in the classroom. Each year teachers strive to figure out new and better ways to lessen or eliminate conflict during recess.
Research shows that conflict on the playground occurs significantly less than positive interaction (although it may not feel this way to the adults on the playground.) Still, it is going to happen anywhere children are gathered and involved in free play. It’s human nature to disagree. However, daily experience with conflict brings opportunities for students to learn how to resolve it. The real consideration becomes how to manage playground conflict or drama successfully.
Conflict resolution or peaceful playground initiatives are not new. Schools have a wide variety of established programs from which to choose. What is new is the intentional focus on social-emotional learning during the school day. States are adding SEL standards, and programs to district requirements and teachers are integrating social-emotional components to their lessons. Regardless of name or structure, one aspect all of these programs have in common is teaching students to communicate respectfully and resolve conflicts on their own. Here are some questions and actions to think about as your school’s playground/recess program gets underway.
Define Recess. What does it look like at your school? What activities are available? Are there enough choices? Do they stay the same all year? Are they inclusive enough? These questions should be answered by the students, staff, and parents. A school-wide survey can uncover valuable information.
Adopt a protocol. Set up a program with clear expectations and stick with it. Use the program with fidelity. Give it a chance to work. Switching program models or protocols every year can be very confusing for kids and adults.
Engage Everyone. Students, recess staff, lunchroom staff, teachers, parents, engineers, after-school personnel, security, and community partners all should be included in student achievement and the mission of the school.
Plan. Create a detailed schedule to ensure coverage and consistent child to adult ratio. As students are learning and practicing resolution strategies, adults need to be available to assist every day.
Student Voice. Conflict manager or junior coach positions empower students. Younger students benefit from positive interaction and mentoring by older students. Leadership skills build confidence and civic responsibility.
Teach EI. Emotional Intelligence is predicted to be in the top 10 most preferred job skills by 2020. Focusing on EI should take place in the classroom and on the playground. Students need explicit instruction in identifying and managing their own emotions and being aware of the feelings of others. Games, role playing, and consistent modeling and practice should build from year to year.
Empowerment. Teach students specific vocabulary and strategies. Common language, resolution strategies, and protocol should be taught, understood, and practiced consistently. These are the tools students can keep with them on and off the playground. Children are learning new information daily. They rarely understand ideas without talking through them and trying them out. Vocabulary and strategies should be visible in the school and on or near the playground.
As 21st-century classrooms and jobs evolve, teamwork, problem-solving, interpersonal skills, and creative thinking are increasingly valued. The playground seems like a perfect place to hone emotional and social skills.
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