The COMMON in Common Core State Standards is not just referring to the fact that the majority of states in the US have adopted these standards for Math and English Language Arts. Here in Ohio, where Ohio's New Learning Standards include not just the CCSS but also new standards in Science, Social Studies, Fine Arts, Business, Physical Education, Foreign Language and more, the expectation is that COMMON means for all students in all districts. That's right, ALL students, no matter what their ability level, grade level, economic background, ethnic background or primary language. The challenge for teachers is not only how to implement the new standards effectively ,focusing on text complexity, depth of learning, mastery of content, vocabulary development, fluency etc. but also making sure that all students are "stretched" as learners and show growth over a year. Wow. In order to differentiate learning within a classroom to meet the needs of all students, teachers will need to focus on three things - Complexity of Content, Delivery of Content, and Assessment of Learning.
In any classroom, there will always be some students who could "take the test" on the first day of a unit, and pass it. Those students are showing mastery of grade level standards and need to be given opportunities to build deeper learning of the material. As you design your lessons, consider how you can build "stretch" moments into the group discussions, small group activities and individual work. Building deeper learning doesn't necessarily mean moving them forward along the continuum of learning for that particular standard - in other words, don't just give them work from the next grade level or your future units. Instead, provide them with tasks that encourage them to learn and apply different strategies to solve a problem, real world scenarios that require them to think about their knowledge differently or the chance to support peers.
On the other end of the learner spectrum are the students who are not able to begin working on the grade level mastery standard because they need additional supports, may be missing key pieces of knowledge, may be ELL or developmentally may not be ready to hit that " mastery" target. Formative assessments are key to understanding where these students are in their learning. As you design your lessons, consider how you can include "scaffolding" moments into the group discussions, small group activities and individual work. Once you identify the starting point for learning for these students - you need to map out a path that will help them move toward success on the grade level standard. They may need modified materials, extra "scoops" of instruction, different kinds of practice activities and the chance to learn from "think out -louds", peer modeling and model materials/manipulatives.
For that big group in the middle, you also need to map out their path to mastery of your grade level standards. Evidence Centered Design is a great starting point for thinking about lesson design. Start with the learning targets and identify what it is that students need to DO. Decide what you would be able to circle, highlight, point to or observe in their work that will show you that they can DO it. Now, focus on building a lesson or series of lessons that will get them to the point that they can DO it. Consider lesson pacing, how to include a variety of activities, how to provide effective modeling, when and how to insert feedback that helps them to move their learning forward, scaffolding, and how to build in chances to make connections to real world scenarios. Look for materials that offer grade appropriate text complexity and will help them to build understanding of key content vocabulary.
How do students build knowledge in your classroom? During lessons that are teacher driven, are you providing written and oral directions? Are your directions clear and easy to follow? Do you have consistent procedures in place in your classroom that help students transition from one activity to the next within the lesson. Lessons that are student driven also need structure. What kind of lesson framework do you have in place that would allow students to anticipate what will happen during a lesson? Are the resources that you are providing to the students appropriate for the rigor of the standard? Is there more than one way for them to access the material (think eBooks, audio books, hands-on materials, visual prompts) What are you doing to achieve a balance between teacher centered delivery of materials and student centered acquisition of knowledge (independent reading, computer research, group work, peer sharing)
ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING
"One size fits all" strategies for assessing progress towards mastering a standard won't work in our diverse classrooms. Evidence Centered Design is a useful way to look at designing assessments. Take a look at the learning targets or objectives for your unit. Once you know WHAT a student needs to DO and have identified what this DOING looks like, you can build authentic assessments. Think about what EVIDENCE you can collect to point back to the "DOING". Formative assessments might include simple "thumbs up or thumbs down" quick checks, entry and exit cards or keeping a checklist during group discussions or small group observations. Summative assessments may be computer based, may be portfolio or project based or may be adapted to offer students some choice in how they will be assessed. Be flexible. Some students may not be able share "what they know" in the same ways as the larger group. Think about how these students CAN communicate, rather than focusing on the can't. Utilize clickers, picture cues, computer aided communication, modeling and drawing instead of writing or offering a scribe as ways to help these students share their learning with you and their peers. For some students with Severe Cognitive Disabilities, you may be assessing them along a grade band of standards or by using the "essence" of the standard. ( See - Ohio Academic Content Standards - extended)
As our state shifts to using the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) teachers must become more attuned to making sure all students are showing growth. By planning how we are differentiating by complexity, delivery and assessment, we can make sure to meet the needs of all our students.
Resources for Differentiation
- CAST UDL Resources http://aim.cast.org/learn/historyarchive/backgroundpapers/differentiated_instruction_udl#.Uu-8HD2wJTY
- ASCD Resource Page for Differentiation - http://www.ascd.org/research-a-topic/differentiated-instruction-resources.aspx
This is the process that PARCC is using to design the Next Generation Assessments for Math and ELA. It starts with "CLAIMS" - very broad statements about what learners should be able to do. From the claims - Teachers can identify "what can be circled, highlighted, pointed to, listened for, demonstrated" that show that the student is doing what the claim states. Then, teachers decide what EVIDENCE will be collected to prove this. Lesson plans can be developed that will make sure the students have the necessary learning opportunities to ultimately DO what the claim states. In a classroom setting - the claims can be Learning Targets or Unit Objectives...or SLOs!
Ohio's Academic Content Standards - extended
These were initially designed to be a guide for students who would be using the state Alternative Assessment, but the grade band vertical alignment, the essence of the standard (think enduring understandings) and the "continuum of complexity" also makes a great starting point for thinking about how to differentiate by complexity in a diverse classroom.