Differentiation is difficult. There is no doubt about it. I’ve been on a mission to find small ways to differentiate without stressing myself out, and without stressing out the teachers I work with.
I often found myself realizing that I was giving one math problem to the whole class when I’d look at my gifted kids faces. You know that look on their face? That boredom in their eyes look…where they’d rather be someplace else than sit and do another problem that they already know how to do. That is what inspired my idea of just putting two problems up, a meets the target (happy) problem and an exceeds the target (stressful) problem. I always explain to the students that if you are able to complete the happy problem correctly, you are meeting the target. It is even more impressive if you can do the stressful problem, but it’s not necessary.
Here is an example. Today in a second grade classroom the learning target was adding 2 digit numbers mentally (without regrouping). I put up two problems, the happy one was a check for me to see who had it. (They worked in their notebooks but it’s also great to use dry erase boards.) The stressful problem is the one that students who need to stretch their thinking just a bit might try after doing the happy problem.
I keep those little face headings handy, they go up on dry erase boards, chalkboards, and easels…wherever we are doing math. If I forget to put two problems, the students definitely remind me. They love to see the stressful problem face, especially the first time when I draw it in front of them. You can use this method during quick checks, problem solving, mini lessons, practice, mental math…the possibilities are limitless. This is something that can be done quickly, and doesn’t require hours and hours of work.