Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Differentiation in an Early Childhood Classroom

I often say this is one of the hardest things about teaching. I know that every grade level deals with kids all over an academic spectrum, but I still contend that it's a much bigger spectrum with the young kiddos. We have students beginning Kinder on Day One who don't know what an A is (even if their name is Alice) or can't count past the number 3-basically a blank slate academically. Then you have kids who are already reading Magic Treehouse Books and can add 2-digit numbers in their heads. 

So what can we do?

1) I am a firm believer in limiting whole group instruction. Often times even the higher students need strategies, especially when it comes to fluency and comprehension. And even if they can read, often they don't know the rules of phonics-you have to teach reading backwards basically. I also do my vocabulary whole group with everyone and a read-aloud. All the rest of their reading time is small group instruction and guided reading.

2) Menus. If you are not already familiar with Ian Byrd's Differentiator it is a really cool way to create menus or find ones that are already made.

I use these a lot for workstations. The students can choose how they want to apply their knowledge. Here is just one example:

I've also seen options where the students know if they are supposed to do the green, red or blue activity-but I like when kids challenge themselves-so I give them the spectrum to choose from.

3) Homework. Now I know, homework in Kinder! But yes, those are the times we live in. Even homework calendars can be differentiated. If they are supposed to count to 20 on Monday and you have a student who could probably count to 1 million if they had the time and inclination--that's too easy for them. Challenge them by making it counting by 2's to 20 or figuring out how many 20's in 100. It doesn't take very long to change the assignment in your template.

4) Independent Study. This is a little bit harder with the little ones because even if they are academically gifted they are usually still not very independent! :) What I do is find out what they want to learn more about. I find child-friendly articles and pictures online (Scholastic usually will have something good) and then let them read about the research. They put together a product of their choice that they can use to teach the class facts about that topic.

These are just some examples-there are many. Even after trying to do it for so many years and reading more/attending trainings about it, I still feel like I'm not able to hit those levels all the time. But we try! :)

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  1. "And even if they can read, often they don't know the rules of phonics-you have to teach reading backwards basically." YES! I've had students who learned to read at home and they can't explain why they know what they know. (and sometimes they have become very adept at memorizing)

    I looked at the Differentiator-wow! Thanks for sharing your knowledge and ideas.
    Chrissy at ReadWriteSing

    1. Glad you liked it Chrissy! Thanks so much for stopping by! :)

  2. I am very interested in having menus like this in my classroom. I found the Differentiator site very interesting, but couldn't see anything for Primary grades. How can a get a hold of one like the one you pictured?

    1. If you give me your e-mail address I can forward it to you. I just made it myself in Word. :)