{Mini-Series} Tips for Differentiating in the Classroom: Be Discreet...but also open - The Classroom Nook

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{Mini-Series} Tips for Differentiating in the Classroom: Be Discreet...but also open


Teachers - I've got one more quick tip (more like a pep talk, really) for you to round out our mini-series on differentiating in the classroom.  

But first, if you missed the other tips, find them here:
Tip 1:  Get to Know Your Audience
Tip 2:  Plan Ahead...But Be Flexible
Tip 3:  Mix It Up & Be Responsive

And now - the last tip.  It's simple, but important:

TIP 4: BE DISCREET ...
Be mindful of calling attention to students for being different.  No one wants to stand out for the wrong reasons. If you’re handing out two versions of a vocabulary list, one with more challenging words and the other with a grade-level variety, and a third with lower-leveled words, think about making copies using a single color of paper so as to not draw attention to the different levels.

...BUT ALSO BE OPEN
By the same token, if students understand that they will always be making the choice that’s best for their learning – about where to sit or which book to select, for example – it will become second nature to them. Make your classroom conducive to those choices.  Arrange desks into collaborative clusters or stations. Give your students the option of sitting on the floor, on an exercise ball...etc.

If you do decide to use some sort of system to organize differentiated materials (such as a color-coded system, group names...etc...), make it casual and part of your every day classroom life so that it feels natural.  Also, keep in mind that a student is NOT branded with a color/group name all year long. Remember to stay fluid in your groupings.  Students' needs will change throughout the year, so be sure to be responsive to them when they do.

Consider using color-coded materials or groups names that correlate with a classroom theme or color scheme that your students are already used to seeing in your classroom.  For example, if you have a jungle theme in your classroom, consider group names like the zebras, the parrots, and so on to incorporate your theme into your differentiated instruction.  If using a color scheme in your classroom, consider using color-coded tubs, folders, binders, stickers...etc... to differentiate your materials.  This way, the differentiation will feel like a natural part of your classroom, rather than an obvious distinction.

To diminish any assumptions of one group being the "high group" vs. the "low group" (kids figure it out!), be sure to bring positive attention to each group at random times.  Highlight something great that one student/group did on one day and perhaps a great insight a student from another group made on another day.


Let students share their thinking often of how they solved a problem or how they understand a concept in their own words.  This helps to students to value each others' differing thoughts, opinion, and strategies.  It's easy to point out the big wins of "star students" and neglect the small wins of others.  Let students know that they are all being noticed and acknowledged.

Check out this video I made about 3 unique ways to celebrate learning in your classroom.  Then head to this post where you can snag a freebie that I mentioned in the video!



Create a classroom culture where differences are celebrated.  Discuss with your students that we all learn in different ways and at different paces, and that’s OK!

There you have it - 4 quick tips to help you get a better handle on differentiation in the classroom.  If you missed any of the others, be sure to check them out here:
Tip 1:  Get to Know Your Audience
Tip 2:  Plan Ahead...But Be Flexible
Tip 3:  Mix It Up & Be Responsive

OH BUT WAIT!  I've got a bonus tip!
Differentiating our educational instruction is NOT the only form of differentiating!  Don't forget that sometimes we need to differentiate our behavior systems, too.  The year I taught in an integrated 4th grade classroom was eye-opening to say the least (in more ways than one!).  My gut-reaction was to hold all students to the same standards, but after about a month of pulling out my hair with my integrated kids led me to (slowly) understand that not all kids can succeed in a one-size-fits-all behavior management plan.

For example, some kids respond just fine with a sticker chart that they fill in (or not, based on behavior) at the end of the day.  They either had a good enough day to earn a sticker, or they didn't. Other kids need you to check in at the end of each subject or work block to see if they earned a sticker.  Have them keep a personal behavior sticker chart in the corner of their desk where they can have a visual of how their days is going hour by hour right in front of them.  Then, if they get a specified number of stickers total for the day (let's say 3/5) - they get a sticker on their daily chart with the rest of the students.

Remember to be gracious.  Don't demean a student for missing a sticker at any point during the day.  Respectfully restate your behavioral expectations and remind them that they can improve in the next hour.   Some kids will NEVER make it through the whole day without having an "off" moment (or hour - let's be honest).  Don't set them up to fail before the day even begins.  Meet them where they are.


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