The Trouble with Differentiation in Middle School

Differentiation is something all Middle School teachers want to do, but seem to have trouble with this one little thing. #intheclassroom

Differentiation is a buzzword that I hear a lot.  We Middle School Teachers understand that differentiation is important because our students have different learning needs.  As a result, we make changes to our instruction to meet those needs because we want our students to be successful.

But really, differentiation is more than that.

Carol Tomlinson, one of the most prominent differentiation experts,  suggests that differentiation actually means that teachers modify content, process and/or product based on a student's readiness, interests or learning profile through various strategies. 

That probably sounds like a lot so let me break it down for you.
Differentiation requires teachers to:

1.  Be clear on what students should know and be able to do at the end of a lesson/unit.

2.  Then consider the readiness, interests, and learning profile of all students.

3.  Finally provide multiple ways (based on #2) for students to achieve the same learning outcome (from #1) in terms of content, process and/or product.

That doesn't sound so bad except that we middle school teachers have around 130 students to consider.  This takes a substantial amount of time especially when you have to consider various class dynamics (what works for one class may not work for another), levels of behavior (some groups are apathetic and some are oppositional), and even maturity levels (some students can handle choices well, others not so much - which requires even more time).

Combine that with an eight hour work day that's filled with teaching as well as meetings, checking emails, grading, school duties, making copies and on and on and you have teachers who move into survival mode that hunt and peck through the lists of strategies they find on Pinterest then decide that those lists don't really solve their problem.

But what if there was a way to differentiate in less time?  What if there was a way to work smarter, not harder in terms of differentiation?  I'm on a mission to figure this out.  So, this summer, I'll be digging into the research to find the best ways to achieve a differentiated Middle School class without breaking the time bank.
{Update:  See my solution by clicking here}

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