I am sharing some units and projects 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), I tend to think and plan in units which focus on an art, science, or social studies theme. Within the units 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!
Land Regions: Interest Groups
School: K-6 elementary school in a suburban area
Class: 3/4 Grade Combination Class with 22 girls and 9 boys, a learning disabled student in the Resource Specialists Program, several gifted students, and several ESL students.
Objective: Students will produce a product about the state’s land regions that will entertain and inform others. They will use “how to” books and articles to learn a new skill that they will use to create their product.
The thematic unit we were studying was the state’s three main land regions. I wanted students to write about each region in a way they had not experienced before, as well as practice the use of “how to” books and articles. I found books at Scholastic on how to take photographs, and how to make a movie. I found library books about myths that were appropriate to the students’ reading levels. I introduced three projects to the class:
• Create a photo essay
• Make a movie
• Write a myth
I explained what each project would entail, encouraged the students to discuss the choices with their parents at home that night, and the next day I let them choose which interest group they wanted to join. All students made their own choices.
All students had to learn about the state’s regions, because their purpose was to produce a product that would teach others about this subject. Their final products would be given to the library for other students to check out, so the work needed to be correct, informative, and interesting. In addition to the research materials we had in our classroom, we took a field trip to a nearby nursery to learn about native plants, and visited a nature preserve that featured gardens of the different regions we were studying.
Here’s what each group did:
Create a Photo essay: Make a book about the land regions, illustrating it with student-made photographs.
Students were to study the book on photography, practicing at school with my husband’s SLR camera. I gave them some class time, and they also used some of their recess time. At the same time, they were collecting information about the plants, animals, and land forms of each region. They had a class camera to use on field trips and at school as well as the “big” camera.
Make a Movie: Make a movie about the land regions.
Students were to study the book on how to make a movie, and complete each step as they learned about it. They created a storyboard, developed props and backdrops, and invited individual students from other groups to share some of their materials and information. They had a video camera to bring with them on the field trips, and they filmed “live action” there. They wrote a script, and filmed the rest of the movie right in our classroom while the rest of the class was working quietly on their own tasks.
Write a myth: Publish a book of myth(s) that would tell about the plants and animals of the regions.
This group used materials about how to publish books, books about myths, and picture books of myths. Since they had published many items prior to this, that part was easy. The difficulty for this group was to read enough myths to develop a construct about what they are. I thought it would be very hard for them, but it wasn’t. There were so many picture books available at so many levels they figured it out quickly.
I did not direct their choices at all, and I was VERY surprised at most of the choices they made! I thought everyone would want to make a movie, but it turned out that each group had almost identical numbers of students. There were children of all abilities in each group, and NO behavioral issues at any time, although they did get tired of being quiet while filming was going on! It was very common for students to continue working right through recess, and many of them worked on the project at home, as well. “Lower achieving” students often made important contributions to the group because of skills they had that are often not used in school. They could make suggestions to “higher achievers” who in turn would help them with skills that were more difficult for them.
At the end, we had a whole class that knew a great deal about the state’s land regions, and three beautiful products to share with the rest of the school. I did almost nothing to facilitate or differentiate learning during this project. The images show samples from the photo essay. The image at the top of the page was a collaboration between 3 students of vastly differing achievement levels. The article at the bottom was created by a single student. We spent about 3 weeks total, using most of the reading, writing, and social studies periods. I met with each group each day for directed skill instruction based on their needs as well as district objectives, and provided what little guidance was needed.