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!

When you create a scale, each learning goal is broken down into five levels, from 0-4. Proficiency in each math standard is represented by a score of 3. A score of 4 indicates an advanced knowledge of the skill, usually above grade level. The goals assigned to scores of 2 and 1, are either derived from sub-skills of the standard, or from the background knowledge of earlier grade levels. A score of 0 on the learning scale is useful to document for students who really need intervention to grow.

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:

When I started posting Learning Goals with Scales for our math standards, it became more obvious to them where they were starting from and where we were headed.  

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

I can't tell you how proud and happy they were to SEE their progress and feel like they had more than one chance to master it!!

Here's the 3 biggest benefits I found from using learning goals with scales…

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.

 – Marzano [2009]

“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. “

– Stiggins [1994]

“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.”

– Moss, Brookhart, Long [2011] Knowing Your Learning Target. Educational Leadership.  
68 [6]. pp.66-69.

Who has time to waste on ineffective approaches? 

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