There was an article that came out recently that was tweeted and retweeted many times calling for a moratorium on differentiation. Mainly the justification was that it's too hard and too time-consuming and it can all be solved by simply tracking kids and putting lows with lows and high with highs. Well, let's just say I adamantly disagree with that stance. Yes, it's hard and yes, it's time-consuming but I also feel it's very necessary especially with young kiddos.
We have been using the Fountas and Pinnell leveling system this year. My students range from level A to level P and everything in between. I very much limit what I teach whole group to new ideas that are new for everyone-vocabulary, new concepts like compound words, main idea, punctuation. I do not explicitly teach or review things like a calendar routine or letters and sounds on a daily basis.
So what are some ways you can differentiate:
1) Menus-love them! Students choose a certain number of activities to complete as a must do. As a challenge they can complete them all.
2) Small group instruction-in reading and math-this is vital! My level A reader is working on completely different skills than my level I reader is. And please don't just ignore your high groups. They still need instruction on how to be better readers as well.
3) Different assessments. I give an assessment on paper every week that includes highlights from each subject area. It's maybe 10-15 questions. I'm checking for ability to apply what we are learning and giving them practice for the assessments they will be officially graded on next year. One test may have high frequency words to identify, the other will have a passage with comprehension questions. One may have 3+2 as a question, the other 32+2.
4) Different homework. Homework in my mind is to get more independent practice in skills they need to work on. My kiddos reading at 100 words per minute do not need to color in an A. They need to practice different skills.
5) Differentiated workstation activities-they are color coded and students know what color group they are in. There are several different task cards with activities to complete. The students are allowed to go up a color if they want to challenge themselves, but have to do the assigned task first.
Once you get into the habit of doing these things on a regular basis-it's not as hard as it looks. But it is worth the extra time and effort to have all students that are you teaching grow in their abilities.