For the next few weeks I’m going to share some lessons which I’ve used with groups of students of widely varying ability and achievement levels. Since I teach thematically (no matter what grade or type of class I may be working with), my lessons tend to be in units, and focus on an art, science, or social studies theme. They are the same kind of lessons that you use every day, and I hope that maybe they’ll show you that you are actually differentiating more than you might realize!
Each post will tell you a little about the school I was working in at the time, the type of class I had, and the objective I was focused on. I hope you’ll find them helpful!
Egypt: A LA/Social Studies unit about ancient Egypt
School: 5-8 grade middle school in a rural area.
Class: Self contained special day class with ten students in grades 6-8. Abilities ranged from below average to gifted. Achievement ranged from second grade to above grade level.
Objective: Students will learn about ancient Egypt through hands-on projects based on a simulation Game called “Egypt.” They will read about the period through fiction and non-fiction books suitable to individual reading levels, and they will write about the period from a point of view of their choice.
I often used simulation units from Interact as the foundation for thematic units. (I used them with students from preschool-eighth grade, in general education and special education.) I find that students who are put in the situation they are studying understand it far more deeply, and are greatly more engaged than those who simply read and listen about a subject. These simulations often come with a great deal of reading content, and hands-on projects that force the students to see from the point of view that they are studying. All materials are included, along with specific lesson plans, however, I rarely used one without making some accommodations for the students I was teaching. Here are the changes I made for this particular group:
Accommodation 1: I collected as many books as I could about Egypt, at as many reading levels as I could find. I used books from the public library so that I could find materials at a lower level than the ones in the school library.
Accommodation 2: This simulation is designed for grades 5-10, so the reading material was too difficult for some of the students. Because the reading content is contained on pages to be run off, it is very easy to create texts of varying difficulty, although it does take some time. Here’s what I did:
- I chose a font that matched the one contained in the original materials.
- I typed a new version of each article by simplifying the vocabulary, and shortening the sentences. If the material was too complicated for some students, I took out the concepts that were least important, and focused on the information that I wanted them all to know.
- I scanned in images from the original materials and added them to the pages in the same places.
- I printed out all the materials, which all looked very similar.
- When it was time to use the items, I told the students what I had done, explaining that there were several different texts, which all had the same information, but some were easier to read. I laid them in stacks of “easy, medium, and hard,” and I let each student choose which one to use. After one or two days of this, they were all choosing levels that were most appropriate for them.
Accommodation 3: Some of the concepts were not sufficiently developed for my group of students, so I created a couple of activities that would reinforce the learning. Specifically these were related to the 3D map that students create of the Nile valley. We spent a much longer time on each section of the map, and did additional research, adding this information to the map.
Accommodation 4: I deleted some of the activities included, to focus on the concepts that were most relevant to the state objectives.
As a result of these accommodations and the excellent materials I was using:
- All students learned the same information.
- All students could participate in the same discussions and activities.
- All students could complete the same projects and activities, at their own ability level.
- Some of the “lower achieving” students actually made more advanced projects because of their art or manipulative abilities.
- All students could take the same tests, although once again, I adjusted the reading levels for this.
Because of the hands-on projects and experiences provided by simulations, the concepts the students were reading and then writing about were far more comprehensible to them than if they had not completed any projects. All of the projects and activities could be completed at an individual level.
I LOVE Interact! It was my most valued asset during my more than 30 teaching years. I hope you’ll check them out! They have hundreds of wonderful tools for providing access to complicated ideas for a broad range of learners.