When you think of the word differentiation, do you cringe? I used to hate that word. Why? Well, my first year of teaching–I had student reading levels ranging from K-6th grade (in a 3rd-grade classroom.) Guys and gals, these are the things they do not teach you how to do in college. I kept wondering how am I ever going to teach on their level but still accomplish 3rd-grade material. I am ashamed to say, I am pretty certain my kids would have been better off that year with a different teacher. I tried really hard and sought advice from everyone who was willing to give it, but I still know I failed those kids in many ways.

It is okay though, right? I mean that never happened again, right? Surely that was a one-time thing, right? Nope. The very next year…same situation. So many levels…so little time. However, this time I was more proactive.

I began researching ways to differentiate. I was THE BEST. I had different levels of resources for all of my kids and I was waiting for my teacher of the year award. I would stay super late every afternoon and prep the materials for the next day. I would work ALL weekend. Guess what…I still hated the word differentiation. I knew teaching shouldn’t be that hard. Oh, and PS…teacher of the year was NOT me.

Fast forward to me being a teacher, wife, mom, and adult with a life. I began to work smarter and not harder. Below I am going to give you my top three tips for differentiating in your classroom without staying past contract hours (if you do–stop it, your time is valuable, go home.)


1. Provide Options and Choices

Providing choices and options for students allows the students a chance to be successful on their own level. They will still be accomplishing grade level material but at their level of understanding. How is this done? Through a variety of materials.

2. Group Your Students

To make differentiation easier for you and more beneficial for your students, group your students according to their levels (reading and math.) Some will be strong in reading and have trouble in math. Others will excel in math but struggle in reading. Make groups (private to you) that make sense to you as a teacher. Pull those groups accordingly when working with students for guided reading, guided math, small group skills, tutoring, etc. Having these groups created will help you use your time more wisely. These are also great groups for center work, homework, etc. If you do need to pass out different materials for different levels of students–these groups help tremendously!

3. Implement Goal Setting Journals

Finally, implement goal setting journals. A huge part of differentiation is making sure all students are learning regardless of their levels. That can be SO HARD. Goal setting journals give students the opportunity to set personal (attainable) goals for themselves and succeed. Remember, differentiation isn’t just for lower students. The higher students need to be pushed as well. Goal setting benefits everyone. Here are the guidelines we use for goal setting. The students love setting new goals each week and checking off if they completed their goal.

SMART Goals Setting Data Portfolio. Help your 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and even 6th grade students identify their academic goals and individual student goals with this fun elementary classroom activity! Included are data binders, goal setting forms, reflection pages and much, much more. #settinggoals #kidgoals #lessonplans #activities #firstgrade #secondgrade #thirdgrade #fourthgrade #fifthgrade #sixthgrade #backtoschool #smartgoals #studentgoals #learning

We just use the SMART acronym but record our goals in our journals! At the end of each week, each child can be proud that they completed a certain amount of goals!

Don’t mistake differentiation for dumbing things down. You MUST teach on your grade level material. However, you can provide multiple opportunities daily for your students to be successful on their own level too. Whether that be a sky-high level or rock bottom low level. All you need is a plan!

If you would also like to check out my previous Sunday Strategy Shares, click the links below!
Sunday Strategy Share No. 1
Sunday Strategy Share No. 2

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Thank you so much for reading each week!

Hillary Kiser