The Differentiated Math Classroom: Discussion Points 1 and 2

Here we go!  I hope yesterday's post made sense to you . . . here are the first two discussion points!  Add your comments below . . . read the comments of others and keep the discussion flowing!  Remember to share your ideas, ask your questions, and prepare yourself to learn from all the experts who are following along with us!  Comment on one of the following or both--or simply read the ideas of others!

1.  Refer back to the Principles of a Differentiated Classroom on pages 22-23.  Which of these are most natural for you?  Which are not?  

2.  Refer to the nine points on page 31 (and the pages the follow) that discuss some of the critical classroom structures to ensure that the climate for differentiation exists.  What can we do as we start our new years to make sure these are in place?  What is already working for you?  Which of these are not in place yet?  How can we build a climate where differentiation will be supported?

Thanks a bunch!  Watch for discussion points 3 and 4 on Tuesday!


  1. First things first, thank you Meg for the inspiration to really pick apart such a wonderful book. I have been very impressed with what I have read so far.

    As I reviewed the “Principles of a Differentiated Classroom” I felt that I saw a lot of what I do in my classroom laid out before me on the pages. I make it a priority to build strong individual relationships with my students and a classroom environment that promotes respectful sharing of ideas. I use a lot of open ended tasks that allow for all students to be challenged and engaged.

    Where I feel I need to focus the most on improving would be in the area of “formal assessment”. I’m comfortable with keeping anecdotal notes (I use Evernote on my iPad for this!) on my children’s work, but finding “authentic” grades in the numeric form is a real challenge for me. I really need to devote my time this year to creating better rubrics and exemplars of different levels of quality for the children to refer to as they work.

    In response to your second question, “All work is documented” is where I excel in my classroom. Once again this is where technology really has stepped up to help parents really have a window into our math block. I use a mix of iMovies, VoiceThreads, and comics created in Comic Life to help explain our projects and processes.

    I really would love to hand this task over to the children next year, and put them in charge of their own documentation. I also would love to implement the idea of students logging the concepts they've covered, and I would like to help them with making their thinking more visible in the classroom.


    1. Wow! I am super envious of some of the things you are doing! I would LOVE to use Evernote--actually registered for it but haven't taken the plunge. As for anecdotal is an area I TOTALLY need to grow! I'd love to hear more about how you do them...what you choose to document, etc. THANKS!

    2. In Evernote I create a Notebook for each subject. Then my Notes inside of each notebook are titled with the student's name. In the notes I can add text about their goals or what they are struggling with. The other thing I love is that I am able to add pictures straight into their note. So if I see a problem or a strategy on their work I can snap a picture of it and have it there in their note. Then the best part is you can e-mail a link of the note to the parent to share in conference. Evernote is the way to get rid of all of those notebooks, and if you pay for the premium version you can use the search function to find anything in all of your notebooks.

  2. Assessment has been something I have really tackled over the past few years, especially formative. I feel much more comfortable and confident with this than I did years ago. Something that I have difficulty with, even as I read how awesome it went together in this book with the Planet Quarto and Truffle Factory projects, is how to differentiate withing the same project like that. Before reading this, in my mind, differentiation would have been different projects for different groups or different expectations from the start having pre-assessed the students. I would have a hard time with giving everyone the same "Quarto" project and knowing what to do with differentiation on the spot once struggles started to emerge. It's definitely something I need to learn to be better at.
    Page 31-35
    I have had more success in the past year with small group/one-on-one time but I still have a lot of fine-tuning to do! One of the best tools I have used is "The Parking Lot." It is a poster of hand-drawn parking lot that is attached to our white board. If, during group time, students have an issue that prevents them from continuing to work, they write the issue and their name on a pink post it to signal and stick it to the parking lot. Yellow is for questions that they need to ask but will not prevent them from continuing, and blue post-its are for needing to go to the bathroom. I can glance up at the parking lot while teaching small group. If a pink post it is up, I will address it first.
    All of my math manipulatives are in one cabinet along with many other supplies. I don't have a lot of space, but I'd like to figure out away of making them more accessible to students' reach. I believe they would be more apt to using them if they could see them and knew it was ok to get them when needed.
    We use two attention/quiet signals: the first one is clapping a rhythm that they clap back and the second one is me raising both hands up and when students see this, they do so as well, stopping working and waiting for the next instruction. Another signal I have used (that I should use more) is playing a song to signal cleaning up and returning to seat by the time the song is over.
    Something from this section that I really need to work on better is consistency of routine (I often get pressed for time break routine so that I can cover what I need to) and I also need to work on student communication with each other. How to talk to each other and ask deep or "thick" questions.
    As I read this, I also have some students' faces who float through my mind. Students who really struggled with being independent, focusing, staying on task, etc. Therein lies another kind of differentiation to consider.
    I've really enjoyed reading this book so far and I think it, along with this book study, will help make this year stronger!

  3. Wonderful comments! I LOVE your parking lot idea! I often do an informal version of this, but I like the idea of having it be a set routine. NICE! As for the math organization, I do have a blog post on what I do with my stuff if you are interested...find the label "organization" at the top left of the blog (you will notice there is only ONE blog post about that topic!). Thanks for chiming in!

  4. I just completed my first year as a 5th grade math and science teacher. I feel that I was able to execute principles 1-3 fairly well but had the most difficulty with 4-6 as our team had an old school approach to math instruction.
    I used many WBT methods this year and was able to manage the class reasonably well for my first year. I starred 4 and 7 as areas where I need the most work. I want to work on more open ended projects for each unit. The statement in the introduction that "it is not individualized instruction" is liberating. I come from a special education background and had been struggling with that part of lesson structure.

    1. I like how you say that "it is not individualized instruction" is "liberating". It DOES all seem overwhelming, doesn't it?! If you are already in a place after one year to even be entertaining some of the thoughts in this book, kudos to you!

  5. I'm a 3rd grade teacher, and I am glad I joined this book study. Creating a differentiated classroom is something I strive to do. After reading the first part of the book I see I have a lot of work to do.
    The key principals I feel are natural for me are 2, 5, and 6. 2- I try to teach my students where they are and take them where they need to be. 5- My students tend to be respectful when others are sharing their thinking. 6- I teach my students that there is always more that one way to solve a problem, and they can learn from their peers, as well as the teacher.
    I find the first principal challenging due to the amount of standards we cover in a given amount of time. It seems I am always in a rush to get to the next topic rather than spending lots of time on developing a strong foundation. I feel like I teach some concepts in isolation. I'd like to get better at having students write about their mathematical learning. I'd also like to improve in the use of rubrics.
    I do have a classroom where my students are mostly engaged and responsible for their learning. I set norms and have a pretty good management system. I am explicit when I teach my students to work independently. I find that when I try to take short cuts in training students to be independent I pay for it in off-task behavior. I need to work on record keeping, task cards, and teaching students to reflect on their own learning. I also need to compile several work stations.

    1. Thanks, Sarah! I am in the same boat with you about record keeping...I just don't always know what to write down. I must find a system of anecdotal record keeping that works for me, and as of yet--have not! I know that feeling of teaching content that is so vast makes it tricky. Somehow we have to find a way to let the key concepts find their way to the core of our thinking--but it sure is hard!

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  7. Okay! Here I go. I'm a second grade teacher. :)

    1. I think I do okay with principals 4, 6, 7 and 8. We use NWEA's MAP test to teach each student on their independent and personalized learning level - some kids were a little bit behind and some were quite a bit ahead. I have lots of different structures to address the different needs in my classroom - small groups with different lessons, choice boards and contracts to give kids practice in their specific areas. I think I'm relatively successful in a respectful environment and giving kids ownership over their (and our) learning. One thing we do well is in our problem of the day (word problem) structure, I always ask if there's someone who got the problem incorrect and would like to share what mistake they made so we can all learn from it and make sure we don't make the same mistake again.

    Ones I'd like to work on: 1, 2, 3, and 5 - 1 because after moving to this new school that uses the MAP test, I'm teaching kids more complex math - multiplication, division, higher-level fractions and even decimals (eek!). I'm sometimes unsure of how to present the material so that they're actually learning the foundational understandings rather than just learning a process. 3 because I, too, want to have a better system for anecdotal notes than I do. I LOVE the Evernote idea. 5 -- I think I could do a better job of building in more accountability for the kids to complete their work with quality on their own, rather than me having to check it every time.

    2. Classroom structure #2 is a big one for me. This year my reading workshop was super smooth, but that was because I set it up in the same way I had for years and there were clear procedures for almost everything. I think one of the things that didn't go well in my math workshop was that I changed the procedures on kids too many times. They just didn't know what to do! That's the same for structures #6, #7 and #9 - a better set of procedures and expectations on my end will lead to better outcomes ... I just have to figure out what those structures are!

    Structure #4 does go well in my class - individualized choice boards worked really well this year and I'm going to keep doing that! I also think #8 goes well - I have kids get into the habit of looking at the person who is speaking, offering compliments and critiques after someone has offered a solution, and have kids explain if they got a problem wrong and what mistake they made (etc.) .... all of those things help make it a collaborative environment.

    1. How are your individualized choice boards set up?