Experience breeds confidence, and with it a comfort to take risks. The support of my administration to experiment and explore has been a blessing. It has given me the opportunity to learn and grow as an educator. Professional development is something I adore. While others find it a burden, I cannot get enough. Attending the NCTM Regional Conference in Hartford was like hitting the jackpot. Hundreds of professionals collaborating and sharing all in one place! Lectures. Hands-on workshops. Resources. Theories. Just the memory of it makes me salivate!
Eager to immediately implement what I had learned those two days in Hartford, it was differentiation that scared me the most. Perhaps because I was projecting my own insecurities onto my students. Being in a private school, most of my 6th grade math students have been together since kindergarten. The line between the math stars and the math strugglers seems to me apparent. There are those who have been supported daily in math and others who have participated in once weekly enrichment groups. However, differentiation in the regular classroom has not been the norm for these students. Would middle school students welcome such an experience? Would it broaden the divide between the stars and the strugglers? There was only one way to find out.
Fortunately for me, my 6th graders just completed lessons on multiplying mixed numbers. When cooking for my shabbos guests, I often need to multiply the ingredients in a recipe. Cooking and baking are natural, real-world applications for the concept. Taking what I had learned about tiered word problems (i.e. applying the same concepts, varying the level of structure, providing extension questions), I wrote my first differentiated problem. The process was certainly not easy. It took several hours to translate my vision into three versions of the Happy Birthday! problem, and there are some improvements that I would like to make.
Standing in front of my students the next morning, terrified of negative reactions to a leveled task, I read the scenario aloud and shared that there were three different versions being distributed. Each student would receive a copy that I thought was most appropriate, based on my knowledge of them as students and their performance with the concept and problem solving in general. I also shared that exchanging one version for another (i.e. one that is more challenging or is easier) was welcome! There were plenty of extra copies.
Then came the moment of truth (dun, dun, dun).
And I found out that all of my worries were for naught. All students, from the stars to the strugglers, were actively engaged in achieving success. New partnerships developed and when the bell rang, students were still working!
New is intimidating. Firsts are scary. Like writing a blog, taking the differentiating plunge was definitely worth it!