At the End of the School Year, Differentiation Is Your Friend!

Charles VerheyELA

It’s the end of the school year, and your students are starting to get fidgety, have difficulty focusing, and are daydreaming of the awesome summer break that awaits them. Many students are checking out. It would be so easy for you to fall in line and check out also. However, there is at least a month left, so you have to squash that laissez-faire mentality. So, how do you keep your students (and yourself) engaged and still eager to learn? By differentiating instruction!

Differentiated instruction is just as critical now because it shows students that you still care about what they learn and how they learn it, right until that last bell rings.

Differentiate student learning with:

1. Active Projects
This allows students to look at content holistically from a backward design approach. Students can choose a project, such as a debate, create a modern-day skit based on a text, or perform a mock trial.

2. Games
Games captivate students by attracting their attention while also giving them the opportunity to interact with each other and reflect on content. Some ideas are creative writing Mad LibsTM, vocabulary PictionaryTM, and escape rooms. Or you can create questions in an online format, such as Quizlet Live or Kahoot! 

3. Leveled Task Cards or Choice Boards
Students challenge themselves at their own learning ability when tasked with various options that represent a range of difficulties in task cards or choice boards. Do not allow them to repeat the type of choice on the board, and guide them to choose tasks that are slightly more difficult than what they previously chose but are within their comfort zone. No matter the topic they are studying, the choices will give them a sense of freedom to do what they want.

4. RAFT Writing Activity
Differentiate RAFT prompts by students’ academic readiness levels, learning styles, and interests. Create a couple of different prompts that cater to specific readiness levels. Learning styles can be addressed by mixing up the format of how their writing is conveyed. Student interest is triggered by providing choice and giving students various options. They can even create their own RAFT if you’re feeling adventurous!

5. Do a Scavenger Hunt Outside
Fresh air and physical activity will awaken all of your students, making even the most mundane topic interesting. Within the boundaries of your school, hide clues associated with the content you’re teaching and/or give pre-assigned coworkers answers to riddles. Have students do the scavenger hunt in groups of three, partnering lower- with higher-performing students, but giving them each a role to play in their group to achieve the end-goal. 

Only a Few Weeks Left—Reflection Time

Every school year you start out with all kinds of plans to make your classroom a transformative space for all of your students. Maybe you planned to return papers to students faster. Maybe you planned to grade less and have your students write more. Maybe you planned to implement a new policy to improve your classroom management. Or maybe you planned to make differentiation a regular practice in your instruction. 

Regardless of what you planned back at the beginning of the school year, some of you are likely feeling some pangs of regret as you realize that those plans didn’t totally work out. Reflecting on these unachieved goals can be hard and disappointing. However, it is important to look back to see where your plans fell by the wayside. 

  • Did you try to change several things in your classroom and it became too much to manage? How can you narrow your scope?
  • Did you join the school improvement team, become a track coach, or become a mentor to a new teacher, and all of a sudden you didn’t have the spare time that you thought you would at the beginning of the year? Do you need to revise your goal to make it more manageable?
  • Did you let your grade level team, department, or administrators know about your goals? Did they help support you?
  • What time of year did your plans fall apart? What can you do to help support yourself at that time to keep your goals on track?
  • Are there professional resources available (workshops, mentor teachers, blogs, or books) that you can take advantage of during the summer months to get you ready for next year?

When reflecting, it is important to remember that, even though you think you could have done better, YOU taught students all school year. YOU stood in front of students day in and day out, answering their questions, introducing them to new ideas, encouraging them to push themselves, and opening your heart to them. That is something to celebrate and cherish.

TAP Cards Model the Structure of Text Analysis—Works for ALL Texts!

Writers and Curators of the Teacher’s Discovery ELA Digest:

Heather Bauer, former building principal, reading specialist, and classroom teacher

Sarah Smith, former world language and ESL teacher

Elizabeth M. Zupan, curriculum writer and former ELA teacher