Mastery of content will look different for different learners...
In a complex world of teaching and learning, one thing has stayed the same: students enter classrooms at different levels for learning content. Differentiation has given teachers the ability to meet the needs of different learners in a classroom setting. The goal is to help students move from their current level of understanding to a level of mastery. The manner in which students reach this level of mastery can range from completing different work in class, to answering questions differentiated by ability level, for example. Mastery of content will look different for different learners.
As an MYP teacher, when planning units you will always consider factual, conceptual and debatable inquiry questions. This structure naturally encourages differentiation. Consider the following questions that come from a unit on cells and cell processes:
• Factual – How are the parts of the cell related to the function of the cell?
• Conceptual – How are systems of cells the same but different?
• Debatable – What makes something alive?
Students who need more support should be able to answer the factual questions, whereas our most able students should be able to more easily progress to the debatable questions, spending less attention on the more basic questions. As a teacher, the expectation should be that different students will be able to answer different levels of questions.
Differentiating the learning process:
You can also differentiate the processes used for learning. Giving your students choice is an effective way to supply learners with multiple ways to learn and understand concepts, and learners will naturally gravitate towards the activity that best fits their learning style. For instance, a station lab lesson might focus on one topic like Weathering and Erosion with students moving around the classroom to different learning engagements, such as a “Read It”, “Watch It”, “Do It”, “Organize It”, “Illustrate It”, “Research It” etc. By allowing students to choose four of the six stations, they can complete an activity that matches their learning style and ability level. This can be an effective way for all students to learn content at the right pace and level of complexity.
Differentiating the product:
Summative assessments are also not always a one-size-fits-all. Differentiating some assessments can increase student confidence and help all students achieve some level of success, while one-size-fits-all testing can lead to a sense of failure among less able students. Providing differentiated support for these students can help you more accurately measure their scientific understanding in assessment.
If an assessment task asks learners to write an essay, students who need more support might benefit from a word bank and sentence prompts to help them get an idea started. This enables you to most accurately measure their understanding of the scientific content.
Diagrams can also support mixed ability students in assessments. For example if you are teaching food webs and food chains, you might assess a student’s ability to create a food web. To differentiate this assessment, ask your most able students to both generate the animals in an ecosystem and create a food chain. Students who need more support could receive a list of animals in an ecosystem and a food web diagram which includes blanked-out labels for learners to populate.
Helping students reach a level of mastery is a weighty goal, but offering students options to reach mastery is the first step in this direction.
Specializing in MYP Science, Angela Webster has over sixteen years’ teaching experience in the USA, Australia and Switzerland.
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