Differentiation can seem overwhelming when you think about having to plan for 3 or 4 different levels all at the same time. I used to think about differentiation as far as high and low, but that was about it. Often I didn't end up modifying that much and I definitely didn't keep track of who started where or how far they'd progressed. Differentiation seemed like a luxury, that I didn't have time for. Until I learned to plan ahead in a more detailed way. Research shows that students who start with clear and specific learning goals can concretely SEE their progress, and will show more learning at testing time! This sounds great, but how do you organize multiple levels of performance?
Learning Goals and Scales can help!
It takes some time and some thinking to put them together at first, but once it's done, it's done!! You can create scales for any subject area and make them a little more general (“I can perform any fraction operation.”) or more specific (“I can add and subtract fractions with different denominators.”) I found math to be the most difficult to differentiate for, so I spent the most time creating them. I also chose to focus on the standards as my main learning goal so that I wouldn't have to create a separate one for each discrete skill!
Here's an example:
We started by informally deciding where they were based on their own opinion; “Show me on your fingers if you think you are a 1-2-3-4 right now.” This worked fine to get them used to the idea, but wasn't helping me to assess or plan as much until I created some concrete Assessments with Learning Goals and Scales which presented specific tasks for each level 0-1-2-3-4, so the kids had a way to show what they knew already. I spent over 120 hours creating Math Assessments with Learning Goals and Scales for grades 4, 5, and 6, which I was currently teaching the most. I spent these hours reading, researching, and creating Learning Goals and scales for each standard that drew from previous grade levels and future grade level skills. Since I had taught so many different grade levels of math, I had a good idea where to look for standards that progressed.You can see examples of Mrs. L's Assessments by visiting my blog: http://mrslsleveledlearning.blogspot.com
1. Kids and parents will know exactly where learning and grades are coming from! After every single test, as if it were some unwritten ritual, students would brag, hide, and compare their test scores. Sound familiar? The most painful thing is to see those little jaws drop and faces turn red when they didn't score as well as they thought. “But, why did I get a 'C' Mrs. LiCausi?” (Even B's were a disappointment to those high-achievers!) I received a lot fewer questions from students, parents, and administrators when I could point out the progression of skills that a student had mastered or not, to get them to that place. When scales are aligned to specific grades, students can make a clear connection to their level of mastery and their final grade.
Visit my website to see an example of how to align traditional percentages to scales for grading!
2. Clear and specific guide for planning and assessing student progress. If you aren't lucky enough to work for a district that thoroughly plans your curriculum and mapping guides, then you know the painfully time-consuming process of sitting down with a year's worth of standards and trying to organize all those ideas, and break them down into manageable chunks for your students. The school year gets busy fast, and every time you switch topics and pre-assess your students, you're starting all over to figure out how to teach them where they're at, differentiating for different levels, and assessing again. If you've got learning goals and scales in order, the process goes so much faster because some of the thinking is done for you! You can move onto the fun part like planning and searching for awesome lessons!
3. Research supports it! Check out some of the following citations…
“The starting place for all effective instruction is designing and communicating clear learning goals.”
“If teachers aren't sure of instructional goals, their instructional activities will not be focused, and unfocused instructional activities do not engender student learning.
“Our collective goal is that the largest possible percentage of our students get there. To reach that goal we must define for ourselves and for them where “there” is. “
“Learning targets convey to students the destination for the lesson – what to learn, how deeply to learn it, and exactly how to demonstrate their learning. In our estimation [Moss & Brookhart, 2009] and that of others [Seidle, Rimmele, & Prenzel, 2005; Stiggins, After, Chappuis & Chappuis, 2009], the intention of the lesson is one of the most important things students should learn. Without a precise description of where they are headed, too many students are “flying blind.”
This week I am attending the 41st Annual AAGT Conference in Phoenix, AZ!
I had the pleasure and sometimes anxiety of working with gifted and advanced students for 5 1/2 years in my last school district. It was a unique position because I was traveling between two Title I schools where the qualified gifted populations were small, and sometimes struggling to sustain services. In order to keep classes large enough, we experimented with adding high-ability students who weren't scoring high enough to have “gifted” status, but seemed to have a lot of potential to advance.
When I started using learning goals and scales with my 4th & 5th grade multiage math classes, I felt like they were helping me more than the kids. Defining each level of a scale meant that I could quickly plan differentiation for the limited class time I had. Having students who were gifted and high, for two grade levels meant that I had a wide variety of skills, even in these advanced classes.
After we established a routine of referring to and tracking the kid's progress in scales, I saw the benefits for them as well.
1. Accountability- Unfortunately not all children capable of learning quickly are motivated to work! There are multiple reasons and theories why this can be true, but if you've worked with gifted kids, you know that they aren't always the best students. Finishing assignments, staying organized, coping with challenges or perfectionism, emotional or social troubles, can distract them from achieving as much as they are capable of, or mastering the skills that you are interested in having them focus on (primarily the standards).
2. Differentiation- Sometimes teachers assume that a qualified gifted or talented student will be good at everything. They may even assume that they don't have to worry about their progress all year because they will do fine no matter what – not so! These kids are as varied in skills and strengths as anyone else in their classroom and have to be treated as individuals. Even a student who is “gifted” in a specific area, such as math or language arts, they may not have mastered every skill in that area. I had gifted language kids who had amazing vocabularies and profound comprehension, but they really struggled to write fluently. I had math students who were so quick with figures and mental computations, but struggled with word problem application or isolated topics like algebra or geometry. They need differentiation too, and being able to specifically identify their areas of need saves valuable classroom teaching time and can keep them motivated. They get the chance to consistently work on things that they really haven't mastered. This could mean that they move into a scale from the next grade level, or deepen their knowledge and application of grade-level skills.
3. Affirmation! Most gifted and talented kids know that they are smart, but outside of individual projects they don't often have opportunities to display how much they've learned! Sometimes a really advanced student will enter your room already knowing most of the grade-level curriculum, meaning that the usual curriculum and assessments aren't going to show their true growth as a learner. These kids deserve resources to keep them moving forward just as much as any other student. I have found that the scales, which include advanced skills, help these students to pin point where they are going next and affirm that they are learning new things too!
If you'd like to learn more about using Learning Goals with Scales in your room, there is a quick video tutorial available on my YouTube Playlist –
How to Use Learning Goals with Marzano Scales.
Below are examples of the Student Portfolio Binders I used to track and sort students' Assessments and work. You can get these Portfolios by following the link to my “FREEBIES” page. Grades 3-8
That concludes our Raffle marathon for now, but I will have a special sale running in my store this Thursday – Saturday, February 5-7, during the Arizona Association of Gifted and Talented Conference.
All Assessments with Learning Goals and Scales will be $20! Posters will be $5!